Sun Quest - Part 2
by Ruwen Rouhs
The fresh morning breeze gave Tsemo the shivers, because his coat was wet from the torrential rain the night before. He squatted down on the sheltered side of a pile of driftwood to catch the first rays of the sun. Blinded by the sun's rays he closed his eyes and involuntarily concentrated his mind on Laong. In his mind's eye he visualized his first encounter with Laong, the boy's unexpected request to become a shaman, their closeness all through the night and later the sudden transformation of Laong from a boy with a crackling voice to a young man with a smooth alto. Was it his vivid imagination or something unnameable, Tsemo's mind suddenly blended with the one of Laong and he saw a heartsick student waiting for his teacher at the next bend of the Bredd-ström.
With eyes shut Tsemo rose to his feet and as in a dream he tackled the next leg of his search for Laong along the stream. The straight course of the river through the hilly land turned into a meandering route in a flat plain. The strong current of the wild stream had eroded the soil on its outside bank and had deposited the fine silt on the opposite bank. The eroded bank was steep and unstable. Earlier in the year the high snow melt had exposed the roots of the bushes and trees growing along the edge of the bank. The bigger trees growing to close to the cliff were in danger of being washed away during the next floods. Most of the trees still stood tall except an old willow tree with a dead top. The willow's root ball was already partially exposed and its half-rotten trunk was hanging way over the rapid current. Some branches were already touching the surface of the water.
Already from the distance Tsemo's sharp eyes caught sight of a small dark figure perched on the tree trunk far out above the high water. Squinting against the sun he took it for a big bird, a fish hawk he thought. Coming closer the shape looked far too big for even a bird of prey. Then he realized who was sitting on the tree trunk. It was Laong. Laong was sitting enveloped in his dark coat on the slightly swaying tree. His head was bowed and his dangling feet were nearly touching the rapid-flowing water. Tsemo sneaked up on Laong but didn't dare to call upon him for fear of scaring him. Laong however had already recognized the shaman.
"Don´t come closer! Leave me alone!" he shouted. Laong's voice sounded hoarse. He snivelled, "Go away! Leave me alone!"
Tsemo felt at a loss! "Laong! Laong! Come! I am so happy you are alive! We searched for you all night long! Aegir, Buri and I, we have searched for you in every place we could imagine!" But Laong didn't answer. "I am so happy now, that I've found you! We missed you! I missed you!" Tsemo poured out his heart to Laong, "I need you! I love you!"
When Tsemo began to climb into the tree, Laong warned "Stay away! I am not worth it! You should not care about me! Nobody should care about me!
Meanwhile the sun was up in the sky and bathed the countryside with her rays. "If you don´t want to come down from the tree, then at least tell me why! I am your friend! I love you!"
"I am worthless! I am useless! I am worthless as shit! Nobody needs me! I can't steer a boat like Aegir, I can't make weapons like Buri, I can't make remedies like you! I'll never be able to catch up with you all!"
"You are a good hunter, Laong! You can use a bow and arrow much better than Aegir. You are better scout than anyone of us! You know all about the animals in the fields and the woods! Why do you think you are inferior to us?" When Laong didn't move, "Please come down from the tree! We need you on our sun quest!" and then with a low voice, "I need you as my friend! I can't live without you anymore!"
After a long time Laong came balancing back along the swaying trunk. He jumped down from the tree trunk! Before he touched the ground Tsemo caught him and held him in a long, long hug and then the two began to dance a ring-a-ring-of-roses.
The big river's current was fast, even in close to the shore. Taking the dugout Aegir and Buri made the distance to the river-bend in about one third of the time Tsemo had taken when walking, even allowing for the three stops. At the third stop Buri found foot-prints Tsemo had left in the sand.
"I am sure Tsemo is ahead of us!" he called to Aegir, "From now on we must pay much more attention to the shore! It's still not light enough!"
"Don´t worry, the sun will soon be up! Come on hurry! We won't miss him then!"
The high riverbank where it was eroded was densely covered by trees with exception of a narrow ledge immediately by the steep cliff. "Let's have another stop before the bend! It's a safer place to check for Tsemo's tracks, maybe he took a shortcut through the wood."
"I have to stretch my legs anyway and examine my sprained ankle. It hurts. Meanwhile you can search for Tsemo's tracks."
Passing the little grove obscuring the view around the bend Buri´s eye caught sight of two people at its further end. Squinting against the rising sun he immediately felt confident that the figure on the bank was Tsemo. But who was the one balancing upright along the tree-trunk hanging far out into the river touching the fast current with its branches? For a moment Buri became frightened as the figure jumped down at Tsemo. But what was looking like a wrestling battle between fierce enemies at first, turned soon into a tight embrace and a dance of joy a moment later.
Buri was about to shout with glee, when Aegir put his hand around his mouth from behind. "Hush, don't disturb the boys! Let's sneak up and take them by surprise!"
Like weasels Aegir and Buri sneaked up to their friends and just arrived when Tsemo asked, "Why did you climb the tree? Why did you look for a place on an old, rotten tree exposed to the raging stream? The tree could have broken and been washed away by the current and you with it! Why for heavens sake did you do this?"
Laong closed his eyes and swallowed down his nervousness, "It was truth and dare!" then trying to hide his nervousness, "No, it only was truth or dare while I was on solid ground. As soon I was far out on the tree-trunk swaying above the raging torrent I lost my nerve. Suddenly I knew I was at the mercy of the Timeless. I prayed! I wanted a judgement of the Gods! "Sisters of fate, give me a sign!" I was praying, "Let the tree break, throw me into the current and let me die! It's not my choice anymore!" He raised his head and looked into Tsemo's eyes, "The tree didn't break. The Weird Sisters didn't want my life! I waited! There was nothing I could do, just wait!"
Aegir and Buri had been listening with rising emotion. Finally the dark-skinned youngster couldn't control his feelings anymore. He rushed ahead, embraced Laong and nearly flung him on the ground, "You stupid boy! Don´t you know we need you? Don´t you know you are a member of the crew, the crew of the sun seekers? Don´t you know we are friends?" then he looked to Tsemo as if to ask for permission to tell a secret, "Tsemo loves you! Don´t you know that you stupid boy? I know; Aegir knows! You cannot imagine how desperate Tsemo was when you vanished without a trace!"
"Yes Tsemo was!" Aegir agreed, "Tsemo would have walked to the end of the world to get you back!"
At noon they were back at the camp, happy and tired but full of new plans. "Let's rest, we all need sleep and tomorrow morning we will tackle the next leg of our voyage!" Aegir told the others, looking for a sunny spot to sleep in.
Buri joined him soon on the fur blanket. Before he closed his eyes he looked over to Tsemo and Laong, who had made their bed behind a shrub putting forth new leaves. "Look, how happy they are! I bet they make love as soon they are sure that we are asleep!"
Aegir smiled and hugged Buri lovingly. "I guess they must wait! I am horny and don´t mind if they see us making love."
Under the screen of flowering shrub Laong snuggled up to Tsemo. For the first time in his life he felt confident that their future would turn out all right. However he still had a question that troubled his mind, a question only Tsemo could answer. "Tsemo!" he didn't know how to start, "Tsemo! Is it true that shamans are immortal?" Tsemo shook his head. "No, I don't mean immortal!" Laong began again. "I want to know if a shaman is the reincarnation of another shaman, a shaman who had been living way back. I want to know if the mind, the spirit of a shaman, is immortal. Can you tell me? Can you tell me if my mind is the mind of a shaman whose body has withered away long ago?"
"Ask me an easier question, Laong! I don´t know! I was told so by my teacher, the High Shaman, but only a few people remember their former life, their former identity. I don´t! But why are you asking?"
"Are there reports that somebody is reborn as a man, who was in a woman's body in his former life? Does he still show the preferences of a woman despite living in the body of a man?"
"I have not heard of such a report. But there is something important you should know. A shaman is not only the reincarnation of a shaman living ages ago but he also has two spirits, has two minds. He has the empathy of a woman and the strength of a man. He is endowed with the talents of both sexes; he is soft and hard at the same time, kind and cruel, weak and strong. He can fall in love with a woman and he can fall in love with a man!" Tsemo fell silent but watched Laong affectionately, "Does this answer your question?"
Laong also remained silent for a long time. He seemed to be deep in thoughts. "Yes, to some extent. Can I ask you a last question, something very personal?" when Tsemo nodded, he continued, "Ever since I can remember, I was more interested in boys than in girls. The older I became the more my interest in boys grew. While my peers all daydreamed about girls, I daydreamed only about boys. I like girls, I even like to play around with girls, but I just mooned over boys." then he turned red, "Since I met you, I have just longed for you!" As Tsemo didn't react immediately, Laong leaped to his feet and ran away.
Tsemo caught him at the edge of the stream, locked him in his arms and kissed him, "Laong, my Laong, never run away! Don't you know by now that I am dreaming of a friend also, a friend just like you?"
From now on they were a well matched team. Either Aegir or Laong were navigating the dugout from the stern while Buri or Tsemo kept the boat running smoothly sitting in the bow. They stayed away from the villages and camped out over night and only visited settlements to replenish their provisions. Once however they decided to stay for a day. Their attention was drawn to this place because it had so many boats tied up at its mooring. They were quite right. It was market-day and an ideal opportunity to complete Tsemo and Laong's kitting out. In his haste to reach the boat the day after the equinox celebration Tsemo had left virtually everything behind with the exception of his clothes and the sacred necklace he never took off. "I am poor as when I was a new-born child," he told the others, "but heaven has always cared for me and will do it again!" This time Buri did. He bartered the flints he had found for some clothes for Tsemo to replace his torn ones and got a new shirt for Laong, because the boy had outgrown his.
Besides this all four checked the stalls for objects useful for the journey and last but not least for objects made of moon-stone, for knives, charms and pendants. Late in the afternoon Aegir was lucky, "Hey Buri, look at this little token. I have never seen anything like this before. It's like a carved stone, but much thinner and has a picture of a man on it."
"Can we have a closer look at this charm?" Buri asked the old merchant.
"No!" was the answer, "I do not think you are wealthy enough to buy it! Young man! It's from a country far, far away." then he eyed Buri with surprise. "Is your skin black or are you just a dirty swine?" then touching Buri´s arm, "That's not dirt. Your skin is dark, dark like skin of the people who made this charm!"
"You are old and yours eyes are bleary, but they are sharp enough to face the truth. I am black because my mother was black. She lived in the country you just mentioned and we are on our way there!" then he opened the collar of his shirt, "Look!" and he showed the old man the moon-stone crescent warning him. "Don't touch it! It's sacred!"
The merchant studied it for a long time, and then warned him, "You know it's precious! You even could trade it for the hand of a chieftain's daughter! Don´t show it around. Leave this place at once. Be careful!"
They heeded the advice, left the village and didn't begin to look for a place to stay for the night till the moon was high up in the sky. Then they took the boat out of the water and hid it from sight in a small wood before they kindled a fire to roast a rabbit they had bought at the market.
The meat wasn't even done when a small boat put in and four men jumped ashore armed to the teeth. Buri had the presence of mind to take his weapons and hide in the reed belt a little way upstream. Aegir received the late visitors "Hello! Who honours us with such a late visit? I and my little brothers want to spend the night here and attend the market tomorrow."
Tight lipped the chief of the group planted himself threateningly in front of Aegir holding a knife to his throat while the others prowled about the place. When the others returned from their search without Buri, he started an interrogation, "Where is the black guy? Don´t deceive me! I know he is around." When Aegir shrugged his shoulders, he pointed at Laong and ordered a scary looking bum with a disfigured face, "Take that boy captive! And you check the bank further down." he told his other two men. Then he turned to Aegir, "Spill the truth brother, if you love your life!" turning to the man with the disfigured face, "Hold a knife to the kid's throat and stab it, stab the bird, if I don't get the answer I want!"
While the scar-face tried to control Laong who was thrashing around like mad, Tsemo suddenly grabbed a blazing branch and attacked the boss of the intruders. This was Buri´s chance. He aimed his bow at the leader and the feathered arrow hit the thug in the back. The tall guy turned around to locate the new enemy. This gave Aegir the chance to kick scar-face in the crotch. The man let hold of Laong and Tsemo pushed the cursing man into the fire.
The arrow had gone deep into the back of the thug. Cursing and swearing to take revenge he tried to pull the arrow out with both hands. Buri took the chance, darted at him and knocked him into the fire too. With his hair on fire the robber's boss screamed with pain and thrashed around like mad. It was not easy to tie up the raging man and scar-face but finally the four succeeded.
Alarmed by the racket two other villains came running back and were received by arrows. Shocked by their unexpected reception they surrendered and were soon tied together with their immobilized companions.
Buri took over the task to question the scoundrels, "Why did you try to hold us up? What did you want? Who told you to rob us?" None of the thugs answered. "Why did you try to kill us?" So Buri took the gang leader's arm and pushed him towards the fire, "I roast your ass, if you don´t answer, get it!" he yelled at him.
This threat cheered Laong up. He laughed, "No don't, Aegir. That pussy just shit his legs! He stinks like a dead boar!" This eased the situation for a moment. But in the end Buri had to poke the guy his knife between the ribs before the thug told them all they wanted to know. The story was simple. The old merchant had blown Buri´s secret to the chieftain and the greedy chief of the clan had offered a fat reward to anyone who would bring him the moon-stone crescent.
"Let's leave this place!" Aegir warned his friends, "It's not safe to stay here. I bet another pack chasing us will show up before the night is over."
"Never trust a stranger, even if he looks like man of honour!" Buri added, talking of the merchant.
Buri ordered the villains to strip naked and threw the clothes into the Bredd-ström. Taking along the weapons of the robbers the four friends launched their dugout and hooked up the villains' boat, "You have to find your way back by foot!" Aegir mocked at the robbers, "We take along your boat, because we don't need a tail!" And Laong kicked their chief in the arse, "Just a little keepsake!" he laughed, "Never try your luck with strangers!"
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