Agrent Dervo

AGRENT COMPOSES ORAL HISTORY TO DELIVER TO THE ORABI AND QUAH JOTHKA OF THE SHUNDAR.

“Will that work for you, Agrent?”

“Yes, Grandmother. I will fit.”

Niska Mvashti smiled and turned to go.

“Grandmother?”

She paused, “Yes Agrent.”

“Agrent is grateful to the Spirit for bringing him to the T’shamek and to you, Grandmother. I learn much from you, new to the Shoanti. My Orabi (pronounced Oh Rah Bee) will be pleased. I am grateful for this learning time before we glide the great lake on the big T’shamek canoes to a place called Rid El Port.”

“I am grateful for you too, Agrent.” She touched his hand. “I wish my grandson would learn some of your humility and gratitude for what I teach him.”

“Orabi says the young do not always know what they have. Kizzie is young. Give him time.”

She squeezed his hand and flashed an appreciative smile. “I’ll leave you to your ceremony.”

Mvashti melted into the forest as quiet as air.

Agrent stoked the small fire in Grandmother’s smoke house. He watched the wood burn down into orange smoldering coals.

He thinks, The house is small but it will do. It is hot enough.

He watched the smoke escape through the roof vent.

There is enough ventilation.

He stripped to his loin cloth and smeared ash over his body in the Skoan way to honor the ancestors’ spirits. He checked the milky liquid made by boiling the special mushrooms given him by Orabi Shundar. The temperature was right.

I must find more. I have only three left. I must ask Grandmother. Perhaps she knows of them.

He stepped in and closed the door. The room was hot and he made it hotter by sprinkling water on the coals. They spat and fizzled as the water vaporized and humidified the small room.

He began the ceremony by chanting the ritual in Shoanti.

“Zekmecitel, the first Orabi of Shundar Quah, revealed to us that we must keep the Shoanti Quah united. So we have. So I shall continue.”

He gathered smoke in his cupped hands and washed it over his face and head.

 “Zekmecitel revealed that the Shundar must go among the other Shoanti Quah, learn their ways and teach them the ways of the other Quah that we remain one people. So we have. So I shall continue.“

He washed the smoke over his face and head again.

“You chose me, Moves Unseen, to walk the Orabi path. I give you thanks.”

A third and final wash of smoke and he held up the wooden bowl with the milky mushroom tea, offering it to the sky and the spirits.

 “I accept your gift. May I be worthy of it.”

He drank the contents and waited. More water sprinkled across coals formed more steam. Sweat rivulets beaded and rolled down his body.

“I cleanse myself, body and soul, to receive you.”

The mushroom tea acted fast on his empty stomach. The room spun. He wanted to vomit. Maybe he did. He couldn’t tell as he drifted deeper. Whispered voices … A loud flash … A sudden but indistinct face appeared … and vanished. Was it there? Sparkles of colored light … The voices grew louder. Images of his mother, his father… A flash of his first hunt… Swimming in the cold river … The voices again…

“I cannot… I cannot hear you.”

A pine tree… sap rolling down the trunk… A talking trout poking its snout out of a swift stream…

“Huh?” He tilted his head. “What did you say?”

The pines hummed as wind strummed their needles. The smell of white rain, what the T’shamek call snow, laced the air. Flashes of animals, talking animals…

A lopping timber wolf, his thick winter coat gray and white with streaks of black, emerged through brush shooting firebrands. His eyes fixed on Agrent. It approached.

“Orabi? You’ve come at last.”

Did he hear it or was it only a dream?

Agrent mumbled and bowed his head. “I am sorry. I have only three eclem left. I have to stretch their use. Forgive me Great Spirit.”

“It gladdens me to see you Moves Unseen. Share your burden and prepare your words for Orabi Shundar that your words will be remembered for all time.”

“I do as you bid me. I walk among the T’shamek as the hunter walks. I listen and watch to learn their ways and understand them. It is a difficult trail to follow. I am confused by their barbaric ways and strange talk. “

“You do well, Moves Unseen. I am well pleased. Continue this journey. You track a difficult quarry. Remember, Moves Unseen, it is not the kill that teaches us as much as the hunt. Continue this journey and take back what you find like any good hunter. Now … tell me what you have learned.”

The wolf lay belly down on the ground and placed its chin over its forepaws. It waited, eyes fixed on Agrent.

“I have so many gifts to share with you to lighten my heavy heart. I came among the T’shamek as you wanted but my heart is troubled. I did not want to leave the comfort of our people to go among the barbarians we call T’shamek. I should have trusted you more. Your judgment was right. I have learned many things about the T’shamek that have lightened my heart and many that trouble me but I am glad now to track this difficult trail. The difficult trail teaches the most.”

“Very wise, Moves Unseen. Tell me what troubles you, young Orabi?”

“For all I have learned there is much I do not understand about their strange ways. I think the T’shamek are a mad people. They build permanent lodges made of stone and tree trunks shaped by axes. They live in these lodges all year long. I came among the T’shamek at a village they call “Sandpoint”. That’s right! They actually name their villages like they are a thing alive. It is insanity.  

“The people …” He shakes his head in disgust. “…are not Quah like Shoanti. I found they are a divided people even within their villages. Each lodge houses a family that acts like its own Quah.”

Agrent continues shaking his head. “Barbaric… They are chaotic and confused. There are so many beliefs, so many view points, so many tiny Quahs stuffed into one village. They argue, fight and are hostile to one other. I think they do not kill each other because there’s a Shoanti named Stone who keeps the peace like a father over his children. He knows the T’shamek ways. He gathered a band of strong warriors to keep the peace. They come running when a fight breaks out and they stop it.

“This shows how weak the T’shamek are. They cannot govern their own passions, but then, they cannot even defend themselves. The people fled in terror when a band of goblins raided the village and left it to Stone’s warriors to defend them. Lucky for them I and some other warriors joined the fight otherwise the weak villagers would probably lay dead. Such a raid on a Shoanti village would end in disaster for the goblins for ALL our people fight. We are not a weak people. Our women, children and men are taught to fight as soon as they are big enough to talk. Not so among the T’shamek who act like undisciplined children that never grew up.

“I cannot blame them for this. It is how they were raised. The T’shamek have scattered values and only a few know honor for they were not taught these things. They have no sense of their place or of who they are. There is no feeling of family as they walk through the village. I miss that. No matter the village, all my Shoanti brothers and sisters welcome me as family. There is never a feeling of being alone. There is never a lodge that would not give me shelter from the white rain. But these T’shamek ignore each other all too often, close their doors to those needing shelter and seek solitude like they do not want to belong and yet they stay in the village taking advantage of each other almost like enemies.”

“What do they do?”

Agrent sighs. “They are strange, Great Spirit. I’m used to our people. We go on a hunt and take a deer, we give thanks to the deer for giving its life that the people might eat, and then we share the meat among all the people. I need arrowheads for the shafts I’ve made and I take them from my brother who has made a pile of them. He does not get angry. Maybe he needs a few arrow shafts so he takes from me as he needs. The women gather nuts and fruits and all are shared among the people. They grind the corn and make bread as one family. We eat together and celebrate life. We work and share as one family.

“These T’shamek do none of that. You want meat? You must go to a giant lodge called ‘tavern’ and there you find all manner of T’shamek. They sit on logs at flattened things made of many pieces of wood they call ‘tables’. They eat in this place but not as family. Some sit at these tables in small groups and others sit alone in the corners. The food is not shared. The T’shamek that claim this lodge hoard all the food. To get some you must give them these small flattened chunks of metal. Some are the color of the white clouds. Some are the color of the sun. Some are the color of the setting sun. They call these ‘coins’. You must give the tavern man these coins to get meat. You do not just get to go to the roasting deer and cut off a piece. Oh no. The tavern man gives you a piece of his choice. How much you get depends on the number and the color of the ‘coins’ you give him. It is so confusing and very stupid. I do not understand which ones to give or how much. It’s an insane way to live. The tavern man thinks all the food is his and to get some you must give these useless ‘coins’.

“This is the T’shamek way in all things. If I need arrowheads I cannot take them from a pile. I must go to the lodge of the man they call ‘smithy’. He has many arrows with heads but I cannot take them. I must give him ‘coins’ for them too. Worse, the arrow heads are made of these metals. The head is stronger than our stone heads but not as sharp and you cannot make more when you are on a hunt. The metal must be heated in very, very hot fires and then pounded with a hammer over and over again, and slowly shaped into a head. It is inefficient use of time. I need arrows when on a hunt, I pull out my hammer stone, break off a chunk of stone from the core I carry and finish off a pile of arrow heads in just a few minutes. But to get T’shamek arrows you must leave the hunt, travel back to the village and get more by giving Smithy more ‘coins’. The T’shamek … such crazy ways.

“They treat everything like they must possess it and they will fight to keep these things even unto death … unless you give them these useless ‘coins’. Give them enough and they will part with anything you want from them.”

The wolf blinked. “These ‘coins’ must have many uses for them to place such value upon them.”

“No. That is just it. They serve no use except to get things you need. They do not make good weapons. They aren’t food. You cannot wear them. They would not even make good sling bullets for the children. Yet you must carry a lot of them in order to get anything you need. And they are heavy. But the T’shamek place great value upon them. I told you, Great Spirit. They are insane.”

Agrent laughs. “Why don’t they value colored feathers? They are much lighter!”

The wolf’s tail wagged wildly as it joined Agrent’s laughter with howls.

“It is a sad place. The people live in the lodges they claim and guard all the things they have gathered by use of these ‘coins’. Anyone taking anything from them is caught and punished for ‘stealing’. They will actually fight and kill one another to protect the things they have gathered and stored in their lodges. This is why I think their lodges are made of stone and strong wood, so that they can protect the things they hoard. They value their things more than their fellow T’shamek. They are barbarians and nothing like us. If a Shoanti brother needs my hammer stone he takes it. I know that if I need it I can take it back. But if you try to take Smithy’s hammer because you need it he will scream and attack like a mad dog. He would kill you if not for Stone and his band of warriors.”

“This T’shamek village sounds like a dangerous place.”

“It is, Great One. Then we went to a HUGE village called Magnimar and it was even worse! I think all T’shamek villages are like this, the bigger they are, the worse they are. It is as walking among a pack of hungry wolves. I am always watchful, always ready to strike. I cannot rest peacefully until I am far from their villages and deep in the woods. In fact, a pack of wolves is safer. I know how wolves will act. But the T’shamek? They are unpredictable. They each harbor many secret taboos and since they are not one people you can never tell when you offend one until one becomes hostile. Most of the time I can’t figure out what I did to offend them. Was it a smile? Was it how I greeted them? Is it because I farted too near them? They are easily offended and quick to hostility. I am left wondering if their anger will cool or if I will have to kill them. It is not good. So I remain silent and be a sapling that I will not offend, and sometimes I think that offends some too. Such an ignorant people.

“I have thought long on this. I think I understand the problem.”

“Speak, young Orabi, that it may be remembered.”

“The T’shamek need to become one people. They think their village is the stone and wood lodges that people live in. Each guards their lodges with great jealousy and will even kill other villagers who enter their lodges unbidden! It is like the lodge is more important than anything.

“What good is a village of stone and wood lodges if no one lives there? The T’shamek do not understand. The village is the people, not the lodges. The Shoanti understand. We pick up our lodges, pack the poles and skins, and move to a new place, but it is always the same village.”

The wolf lifted his head. “Then what has lightened your heart, Moves Unseen?”

“I found other Shoanti among the T’shamek. I think they are here to show the T’shamek how to be one people. So I chose to stay and help them. We teach by example, and I think it is working. I’ve seen some good changes. And the Shoanti are not alone. There are others very like the Shoanti that teach the right way. Many have come to help the T’shamek and I would help my brothers and sisters, for the Shoanti ARE one people.

“Speak their names, Moves Unseen, that they will be remembered.”

“Names… Stone, the one the T’shamek call “Sheriff”, is Shrikirri, Hawk. The tavern man is Flowing Water of Shrikirri too. And I travel with Shrikirri, a brother named Wolf Kin (Par Lay).”

“You spoke the names of Stone and Flowing Water. I know of their deeds. Tell me of Wolf Kin that he will be remembered.”

“We are brothers. We chose to help Stone defend the weak T’shamek when the goblins attacked. Many times have we fought the enemies of the T’shamek and many times I witnessed my brother’s skill in battle. At first I thought he was turned into T’shamek, but my first night among them I went into the forest outside their village to find a place safe to sleep. Wolf Kin and another joined me. He marked the camp to warn off bears, wolves and cats, and the three of us slept peacefully under the stars. Many times in combat my Shoanti brother and I fought side by side. He has saved my life and I have defended his back. We are one and it is good to have him. He understands our ways. He is as mystified by how the T’shamek behave as I am although I think he understands them better than me.”

“He has lived among them but is still confused by their ways?”

“Yes. As I said, what they do is senseless. Any Shoanti knows you do not let your quarry escape, especially when it is human like enemies. Yet when a bunch of us, (mostly T’shamek), tracked the raiding goblins to their village and attacked them, one Goblin ran off into the brambles, only I gave chase to keep the single survivor from reaching and warning his other warriors. The Shoanti would have chased as one. As I expected, there were others waiting to fight me and had my brother Wolf Kin not quickly finished the goblin he fought and quickly followed me, I would have died. The T’shamek scolded me. Both Wolf Kin and I were confused by why they did not follow as one and they could not and refused to listen when we tried to tell them no good hunter lets his quarry escape. Had they followed as one, none of the bad things would have happened. They are the poorest hunters I’ve ever seen. It is no wonder their women and children, and most of their men, are so weak they need a band of warriors to protect them. Their village would not survive one winter in Storval.”

“You spoke of others like Shoanti. Do they travel with this band you and Wolf Kin serve?”

“One does and one does not.”

“Speak their names that they will be remembered and honored.”

Agrent falls silent for a long minute. “I remember the stories Orabi told us around the night fire. There is one in particular.  I was not even 5 winters and 2 from receiving my name. He spoke of lost Shoanti Quahs spread over the land during the time the Varied Shins came to destroy us during the blood times and before the Azghat, the ‘saviors’, drove them off. Orabi said there may be many lost Shoanti out there still. He hoped someday we would find these Quah and unite with them again.”

He stared deep into the wolf’s eyes. “That is why you sent me among the T’shamek, isn’t it? You want me to find them and reunite the lost Quahs so that the Shoanti are One People again.”

The wolf’s eyes brightened and he cracked a strange smile. “Very good, young Orabi. And?…”

“I think Orabi was right.” He zeroed his gaze on the wolf. “You know I am now Orabi but what you don’t know is my Orabi did not teach me. I learned from a T’shamek.”

The wolf’s eyes flew wide. “What?”

“There is an old woman that lives like Shoanti in a lodge that is different from the T’shamek. She lives at the village edge surrounded by woods. She grows all manner of useful plants that she collected from the woods. She is rightly named Moves Ash Tree, for she can indeed move trees as well. The animals in her grove are friendly and she speaks to them. She is so like my Orabi that I felt at home with her the first time I talked to her. She took me as apprentice and now I walk the Orabi path. In so many ways she is like our people. She sees and hears what the blind and deaf T’shamek do not. I now sleep in her grove when in the Sandpoint Village. She is Grandmother to me now and I learn much. I think she may be of a lost Shoanti Quah.”

“Learn all you can from her, young Orabi. The Shoanti will benefit much when you return and share what you learn.”

“I hope for more than that, Great One. I hope to help these people become Shoanti that they might benefit too.”

The wolf grinned, its teeth exposed like a growl. “Spoken like a true Shundar.”

Agrent shook his finger at the wolf. “That is another reason why you sent me among the T’shamek, isn’t it?”

The wolf spoke without moving its mouth. “The Shundar learn the ways of all Quah and teach them to the others so the Shoanti are one people. You have already found one of the lost, haven’t you? The Orabi known as Move Ash Tree is remembered. She will learn as much from you as you from her. But you said you found two that were like Shoanti. Who is the other?”

Agrent scratches his neck. “She confuses me. One minute she is so Shoanti that I feel at home. The next minute she is T’shamek. Like the wind, she is up and down, first coming from the north and then sweeping from the south.”

“Speak her name that she is remembered.”

“She is Rain, but her Quah misnamed her. She is nothing like rain. She should be called Hunts As Cat. She moves through the forest even more quiet and unseen than me. She is a deadly shot with bow and can track almost as good as me. She is Shoanti in so many ways. She even described her Quah. They are named Blackarrow.”

“This is good, Moves Unseen!”

Shaking his head no, Agrent went on. “But I am less and less sure the more I get to know her. Like Shoanti she is at home in the forest and prefers it there. She is a great huntress. It was she that stayed with Wolf Kin and me my first night in Sandpoint. She was first to befriend me. I was as fish out of water. I knew nothing of “coins” or customs. She spoke to me of these things. She used her coins to buy me ‘ail’ and food at Flowing Water’s tavern. I thought we were brother and sister.”

“What makes you think you aren’t?”

“Sometimes she looks at me like she is disgusted, like I have bathed in dung. No Shoanti would do that to a brother or sister. And she does not speak straight. Sometimes she hides the truth by turning her words just like the T’shamek. Ohh … the T’shamek … as a people they are preoccupied with finding a way to twist words so they do not say what they mean.  I am unsure that as a people they are able to speak straight. But I have found some that do speak straight. Most of the time Rain is straight as an arrow but at times she hides herself and sometimes especially from her Shoanti brothers. I think I have learned what this means. There is a way T’shamek twist their words to hide their true feelings.”

“Explain.”

“They pretend like they are your brother or sister and their words are said to make you feel this, but inside they don’t really care at all. It is a cruel thing to do to people for they are made to feel like they are trusted and liked when in fact they are not.”

“How can you tell this, Moves Unseen?”

“There are moments where the disgust reveals itself in her face. There are times when she is cold, as though invisible arms push her brothers away. Yet there are times when she embraces her brothers, usually when we are in combat and her life is in danger. The thing is, Great One, I really like her. I cannot help it. She is so like the Shoanti … except when she twists her words. Perhaps she has been too long among the T’shamek and hurt too many times by their twisted words that she mistrusts all people. Sad…

“She is a good hunter, but in some ways she is frail. She is smaller and less sturdy than the Shoanti women of Storval. So I chose to watch her back too, like a good brother should. And there is one man in particular that hunts her relentlessly, but I have my eye on him.”

“These others you travel with, the ones that speak straight, speak their names that they too might be remembered.”

“That is hard, Great Spirit.”

“Why?”

“I do not think the T’shamek name their people like Shoanti. I have been among them for many months and not once have I witnessed a naming ceremony. Also, many children play in the village and many are too young to be named and yet I’ve heard their mothers call them by name. I thought perhaps they name their children in private ceremonies since they all live like tiny quah, one to a lodge. So stupid…” Agrent purses his lips in disgust. “Rain told me the T’shamek parents name their children at birth. At birth! How can a person earn their name at birth? What have they done? All T’shamek should then be named ‘Cries a Lot’. But strangely, many of their names fit them anyway. It is a mystery how their parents know what to name them at their birth. I will learn more of this practice.”

“Tell me these names, Moves Unseen. They must be recorded.”

“Where shall I begin?”

“At the beginning, of course.”

The wolf settled back down.

“Hmmm… well, there’s Brawn Back Battle Horn. He fits his name well. He is a small man. His head comes to my chest, but he is stout of body, and almost as wide as he is tall. He is covered in powerful solid muscle like a wild boar. I’d say he is brawny, both front and back. Like a battle horn, he roars in battle and his enemies tremble. Few warriors are as fierce or as dangerous. But it is not just in body that he is Brawn. He is also strong in spirit and honor. He always speaks straight words. I can see why Stone chose Brawn to be in his band of warriors to protect the villagers for he is like Shoanti. It was Brawn that brought Wolf Kin, Rain, me and others together to form another band of warriors to protect the helpless T’shamek living in the Sandpoint village. Brawn knows honor and he will not tolerate twisted talk. I like this man. He is like Shoanti with his straight words and his certainty of right and wrong. This is why I have come to think of him as brother even if he is yet T’shamek.

“His shortcomings are few. Because he wears T’shamek metal skin he could never learn the hunter’s ways. He makes more noise than a herd of horses in stampede. It’s either the clanking of his skin or his booming voice. Rain and I can’t track unseen and unheard with Brawn near. Also his legs are short. Brawn is not a fast runner. But this matters little as a village protector. We travel with him to destroy the village’s predators. No more stout or steadfast a leader or warrior have I ever found even among the Shoanti. This is why Moves Unseen chooses to travel with Brawn.

“I think Brawn likes me too.”

“What makes you think this, young Orabi?”

“My first night among the T’shamek, in Flowing Water’s tavern, Rain gave me this bitter water the T’shamek call ‘ail’. I found out why. I liked the taste. It went down quick. Soon the room was spinning but I felt invigorated. I danced and whooped while Rain tried to calm me but the spirit of the drink took me. I was wild and free. I do not remember the walk back to camp. The next day … oh … I found out why they call it ‘ail’. My head hurt. My body hurt. I wanted to heave. I was so weak I could barely walk. I drank water and was dizzy all over again. I swore I would never drink ail again. But by that night I was back at the ail. Brawn is teaching me to drink ail slowly so I do not get sick or lose myself. I am trying to learn their ways. Brawn is very patient and understanding. That is why I think he likes me.

“Another is Samp’s son. I do not know this man named Samp but he must have been a great hero for his son to be named after him. Like Brawn, Samp’s son speaks straight, but even more brawn than Brawn, he defends all T’shamek everywhere from predators and evil T’shamek, not just the village of Sandpoint. He follows a code of honor that I understand and think is much like Shoanti. We are one people. We fight for each other, sacrifice for each other and protect each other. Samp’s son is like that towards all T’shamek even when they do not give back this loyalty in kind. I would cover this man’s back for I know he has mine. When it comes to warriors, he is strong and powerful. He is brave and fearless. He fights like a man possessed. Were it not for his clanking metal skin and shield I would say he fights like Shoanti. He is like a one man army in battle. He would be as powerful as my brother Wolf Kin if we could teach him to fight like Shoanti. But he does well enough with his own techniques. But he too can never be a warrior. He makes more noise than a herd of Brawns stampeding! Clank, Clank, Clank!!!

“Yes, Great One. I follow three noble warriors. All speak straight. All are brave. All are worthy of honor. One is my brother Wolf Kin, the finest warrior in the Shoanti tradition, Samp’s son, a true protector of the innocent and weak, and Brawn Back Battle Horn. I just hope that someday we can give Samp’s son a proper name of his own. He needs to step out of the shadow of his father for he is worthy of his own name.”

“Surely you have a name in mind already, Walks Unseen.”

Agrent looked up. “I would name him Brave Heart. It is what he is.”

“You have found good people.”

“Yes, Great One. They are either Shoanti or like Shoanti. They would not be strangers among our people. We have formed our own tiny Quah among the T’shamek. I would die for these people.”

“Then you have named all the people in your band of warriors formed by Brawn.”

“No, Great One, I have not. There are others.”

“Why have you not mentioned them?”

“I have not yet got to them.”

“Then speak their names that they will be remembered.”

“Naming them is harder. I struggle with their names’ meanings. I will do my best.

“There is another among us who is also like Shoanti in some ways. He is young and already taller than me. His hair is like the color of sun and his eyes the color of a cloudless sky. I’ve never seen his like before. We fought some of his people in the big village called Magnimar. They were huge fierce warriors much like Shoanti.

“But though he is strong he is not a warrior like his people. He would make a good hunter though. He is a deadly shot with a bow like weapon called a crossbow in T’shamek language. He is also fearless and tough but his real skill is like that of Orabi. He calls forth the powers of the spirits from the air itself. That is why I think he is named Air Lit. It is like he commands air and light. I have seen him bring forth rainbows from his fingers. Attackers stare at the colors and do not move even when we attack them. Balls of light come from his finger and hit attackers like a well flung sling bullet. I’ve seen him surround Samp’s son, Wolf Kin and Brawn with robes of light that protect them from being hit. I have even seen him make a torch burn bright but without fire. He possesses amazing Orabi talents. I have observed and I have even learned one of these talents.”

“That is wonderful Moves Unseen! The Shoanti will learn much.”

“Do not be so sure. Air Lit is quiet. He keeps to himself much of the time. He rarely talks to me though I have praised his skill many times. What I learned, I learned by watching him. He is a man of few words, a man of action.”

“Then he must not speak much to anyone.”     

“He does not, Great One. He speaks only when he needs to say something and it is usually important. He does not waste words. He does not draw attention to his actions, but when you need him, he is there. I trust this man. He too speaks only straight. I think he comes from one of the lost Quahs too. I think he said he was Wolf Man. Perhaps a lost Quah is called Wolf? He said it strangely though. Perhaps it is their accent. It was more like wulfmen. Something like that. I just know that he is a good man and I trust him. I call him brother too.”

“You make these T’shamek sound like good people.”

“Great One, these are the best of them. We are the warrior folk. I think Brawn picked us well to help the weakling villagers.”

“Have you named them all?”

“No. There are three others in our band. I saved these for last for they are the ones I understand the least. It also seems to me they are the ones that most illustrate the bizarre customs of the T’shamek.”

“Then speak their names that they too might be remembered.”

“Well …” He strokes his chin. “I have a dreadful time trying to understand Kizzie. Move Ash Tree tells me the name means ‘cinnamon’. It is a spice ground down into a red powder from the bark of a tree. It makes food taste wonderful and I think it would make a good pigment for red color too. I mean to ask Moves Ash Tree for seeds that we might grow some of these trees for the Shoanti of Storval. I think he received this name because of how bright red his face gets when he is mad or excited. I do not think he likes the name for he has given himself a name. He calls himself Cameo. Rain explained the meaning. It seems cameo is a white or lighter stone carved to resemble someone; then set against a darker stone background. They sometimes lace a leather strap through an eye hole cut into the stone and wear this cameo around the neck. I am mystified why Kizzie would choose such a name. Is he trying to say he is carved from stone? I doubt that for he is the most frail of all our Band. I think he means it like a mask. I think Kizzie tries to hide behind a false person he makes himself out to be.”

“So he does not speak straight words.”

“I did not say that. He actually speaks some of the straightest words of all T’shamek. What I mean is that he wants to be someone he is not. He is a most confused young man. Sometimes I fear he wants to fight to the death and at other times he is as quiet as a mouse. I do not know what sets him off, or what I do that offends him. In fact, few of our companions understand what offends him.

“There was this time our band fought a large group of attackers and slew them. It is our practice to search the dead and remove their things, since there is no sense in letting good things go to waste. In the custom of all Shoanti, we place the goods in a pile and each takes as he needs. It is what we always did. Well, this one day I announce to Brawn that I would search and take what I found on this man who was like an Orabi. Suddenly Kizzie starts screaming at me and got bright red in the face.

“’Maybe I want what he has! Did you EVER think of that? Why do YOU think you can just take whatever you want?’

“He came at me like he was going to try and kill me. I did not know what to say. I simply had done as we always do. I waited and just stared, my weapons at the ready. I did not want to kill him. Finally he seemed to run out of anger and he just stormed off. Perhaps he could tell by my look that I meant to defend myself. I do not know. Worse still, I do not know why he got angry. This is just one of the times he did this to me. He has done this to others. Kizzie is a strange one. He speaks little and when he does it is mostly to scream and yell at one of us. I think he is an angry man but will not release it.”

“How did this Kizzie come to be among you?”

“We took him because Moves Ash Tree asked us too. He is the son of her child. Perhaps she hoped we could help him grow up and lose some of his anger. I do not know. I can say this though, he is like Air Lit. He too commands the spirits of the air. He and Air Lit do many of the same Orabi gifts, the ball of light, the robe of light… Do not misunderstand me, Great One. Kizzie is brave even if frail, and most useful in a fight. I just wish we could get him to let go of whatever makes him so angry. I mean, once Strap Oh tried to get him a woman thinking maybe if he lay with one he would calm down but Kizzie started screaming at Strap Oh and took offense at the offer. We are all at a loss on how to help him. So we look after him, keep him safe, let him take out his anger on the enemy of Sandpoint and bring him home safely to Moves Ash Tree.”

“You mentioned a name ‘Strap Oh’. Is that a companion too?”

“Yes, yes…” Agrent rubs his head. “He is the strangest one of all. His name, ‘Strap Oh’ is so hard to understand. I think it has something to do with his ‘weapon’, if you could call it that, and his obsession.”

The wolf shook its head. “You must explain this.”

“His weapon is a long strip of leather. It might be good for a belt but he uses it as a weapon. He lashes his opponents like my father spanked me with a leather strap when I misbehaved. I’ve told him that we aren’t here to spank Sandpoint’s enemies. We came to kill them. Still he uses that silly strip.

“I’ve learned that you tell Strap Oh nothing. He gets offended by that and he is especially sensitive about his mostly useless weapon.

“But then I found out he also uses it in his obsession.”

“Tell me of this obsession.”

“Strap Oh cannot go 2 seconds without thinking of lying with a woman. He seeks them out constantly. It is all he talks about. He thinks it makes him somehow superior because he can claim to have mated with many women. It is sickening to see him slobber over Rain and he follows her like a puppy dog with his tongue hanging out. He has done all but stand on his head to get her to lay with him. He thinks of nothing else and he works hard to try and get all of us as obsessed as him. Twice now he has corrupted the young man Air Lit by having him lay with a loose woman. Wolf Kin refused his offers until Strap Oh found a loose Shoanti woman to lay with him. I think she was enslaved somehow. Strap Oh is mad with lust and tries to pass his madness to all of us. I think he is a sad little man who perhaps is ‘lacking’ in his ‘manhood’ that he needs to make it up by having many conquests.

“Like Kizzie, he is very sensitive about things, especially his mating habits. I once said straight what I felt and found I somehow offended him. He threatened to kill me. I just stared hard at him, waiting for him to make the first move but he backed down. It was lucky for him.

“Do not misunderstand me. He is a strange and formidable Orabi. I’ve seen him damage many enemies just by being near them. I have tasted the sting of his power myself. It is just that he does not know how dangerous Shoanti are. While he stung me I would have had to cave his head in. This I did not want to do. It was not my intention to offend him but like Kizzie, like so many of the T’shamek, it is hard to figure out what offends, what is taboo and what is safe. The problem is, they all have different taboos. What offends Kizzie makes Strap Oh laugh with joy.

“Strap Oh goes out of his way to make his friends happy. This is to his credit. I always have fun when Strap Oh is at his best. But I harbor no hope that I can teach him the Shoanti ways. He is blind and deaf to all but mating. There is nothing beyond that to him. He sees no beauty beyond a woman he lusts for. He does not hear the wind in the trees, or the warning calls of a starling, or see the tracks of a deer that might be tonight’s dinner. At night … he does not look at the stars and wonder at your greatness, oh Great Spirit. I cannot imagine him enjoying a cool spring day and just sit by a babbling brook and wonder at the beauty around him, the budding flowers with their many colors, the songs of birds returning after a long winter, the warmth of the sun, the sweet smells of spring. No. Strap Oh would be thinking of stripping a woman bare and mating with her next to the stream. It would not matter who she was. He does not mate for love. Bah … even the dogs have greater morals. He is ruled by his … ’manhood’, the head between his legs rather than the one on his shoulders. I think part of his name comes from the use of his strap. I think he straps his women in his mating ritual and maybe even ties them with it.”

“Forcing women into his rituals by beating and tying them? That is the act of evil…”

“No, no, no… Great One. The women do it willingly. They too are as twisted by their desires for mating pleasures. They do these things as a game. No one is seriously hurt. In some sick way it adds to their pleasure. He once had a woman dye her skin dark purple for the pleasure it would bring him… I know, Great One. It is sad that he does not mate for love. What truth is there in mating for pleasure alone? There is no connection, no bond between his women and him except a surface pleasure. They mate once and after it is over they part ways like leaving the fire after eating a meal. It means nothing.

“In a fight … you can count on him. He backs his friends and is brave. I’ve not ever seen him run from a fight. So I trust him too even if he is a bit crazy, but I keep one eye on him at all times … just in case he finds something to be offended by and gets a little too crazy.

“And we come at last to Fall Afar. Next to Kizzie, Fall Afar is the next most frail of our Band. Funny, but I still can’t figure out why he is with us. He is a terrible warrior. My dog knows better strategy. This is why I think he is named Fall Afar. He must have grown up stumbling over his own feet and falling all the time. He must have many broken bones for it is true that Fall Afar falls a lot. Someone needs to bash some sense into the man. He is the only man I know that can talk and talk and talk and when it is over you realize you understood nothing he said. He is always speaking of this thing and that thing being a holy relic and all I see is a weathered, ugly, old statue in my way.

“Then I think of what he does for us… Let’s see… He is a terrible fighter. My grandmother fights better with her teeth and she doesn’t have any… He is not Orabi for he has no gifts to hurt enemies. I think he is Shaman but all I’ve seen him do is heal people. For that he is useful for he has helped keep us alive many times. He also sings well, especially good after we drink much ail.

“And … I cannot help but like the man. He does fill our days with laughter. I would like to teach him to fight but he is such a stumble foot I fear he might hurt himself, or me.

“Great Spirit, this is the warrior band I track with, for now. We are a small Quah and I vowed to defend them with my life. “

“I heard. Their names are remembered. Stone, the sheriff of Sandpoint; Flowing Water of the Tavern Lodge; Moves Ash Tree, your teacher; and your band of warriors; Brawn Back Battle Horn; Samp’s son; Wolf Kin, a Shrikirri Shoanti; Rain, a Blackarrow Shoanti of sorts; Kizzie, grandson of Moves Ash Tree; Air Lit of the Wulf Quah, Strap Oh and Fall Afar. Are there any others?”

“That is them.”

“They are remembered. Next time do not wait so long to share these memories. I am sure Moves Ash Tree can find you the mushrooms.”

The wolf came forward and licked Agrent’s face. “Sleep now, my child. Wake well rested.”

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