Sanctuary – Snippet 13
“Tekkutu! Tekkutu!” Little Chello came racing toward Meshwe. She was still limping a bit from the lingering effects of the tritti-bite, but was so excited that she ignored the pain.
Excited by what? Meshwe wondered. He could see nothing behind her but the narrow lane winding between the town’s yurts. Although, now that he concentrated, he thought he could hear some hubbub in the distance.
He wasn’t certain, though. At his age, his hearing was mediocre at best.
“What is it, child?” he asked, as the little one raced up. She tried to stop too abruptly, stumbled, and would have fallen if he hadn’t caught her.
“It’s Sebetwe and the others!” cried Chello. “They’re back. And they brought with them — oh, you won’t believe me! Come see for yourself!”
The youngling got back on her feet and began tugging Meshwe by the wrist. “Come see! Come see!”
As they neared the town’s central plaza, the hubbub resolved itself into the excited speech of a large crowd. Judging from the tone, the crowd seemed agitated but not panic-stricken.
Once they got still closer, Meshwe could distinguish a single voice rising above the others. That was Sebetwe, he was sure. So the hunting party must have returned, then.
Finally, just two rows of yurts from the plaza, Meshwe could make out the words Sebetwe was shouting.
“Stay back, you idiots! If we lose control of them, some of you will get killed!”
That sounded… dangerous. Even if the crowd’s hubbub still didn’t seem that frightened.
“Come on, tekkutu! Come on!” Chello was so excited she finally let go of his wrist and raced ahead of him. He hurried his steps but didn’t break into an outright run. At his age, running was not the least bit enjoyable.
He came into the plaza and stopped. Very abruptly. The sight before him was without a doubt the most bizarre thing he’d ever seen — and Meshwe had lived a long and varied life.
In the center of the plaza were two adult and two juvenile gantrak. Judging by the size and subtleties of coloration of the adults, one was female and one was male. A family group, presumably. The trappers who’d gone out to capture (hopefully — the prospect was always chancy) a juvenile gantrak were positioned on either side of the predators, keeping a wary eye on them. The leader of the little party, Sebetwe, had a look of intense concentration on his face.
Meshwe recognized the expression. It was that of a skilled tekkutu maintaining control over a predator.
But controlling an adult gantrak? It was unheard of! Meshwe himself would not dare to do it, not even if he had several other tekkutu to assist him.
Then, further back, Meshwe spotted a still more outlandish sight. There was a party of Mrem in the rear. Two handfuls, perhaps more. And in the fore were two Mrem he thought to be females. Both of them were advancing with a peculiar manner — a bizarre one, actually. They were prancing and capering about as if possessed by demons or under the influence of one of the jatta syrups.
It took him a few moments to realize that the Mrem females were engaged in that weirdly frenzied mammalian version of dancing. And another few moments to remember that according to reports the Krek had gotten from its spies in the lowlands, Mrem dancers were able in some unknown and mysterious way to counter the mental power of the Liskash nobility.
Was it possible that…?
Ignoring the noise and excitement around him, Meshwe squatted and began the process needed to place him in tekku. There were several stages to that process — the exact number varied depending on circumstances — and with his long experience and proficiency he was able to pass through the initial ones quickly. But then, entering the phase known as efta duur — merging with the target spirit — Meshwe encountered an obstacle.
Not an obstacle so much as turbulence, he realized. It was as if, wading into what he’d thought was a pool, he’d encountered rapids. The clear, crisp, harsh minds of the great predators he sensed nearby were constantly being undercut — perplexed; disarranged, disoriented — by…
What, exactly? He could detect Sebetwe’s presence in that turmoil. The young tekkutu seemed to be guiding the gantrak through their confusion, giving them desperately needed clarity and focus. It was only that controlled orientation that kept the ferocious beasts from running wild.
But how was he doing it? No tekkutu, no matter how strong and adept, could possibly maintain that control while simultaneously undermining the normal instincts of a predator. It would be as hard as trying to run a race while juggling knives. Possible theoretically but not in practice.
It was the Mrem, he realized. Somehow, in some way, their dancing — or rather, the mental concentration — no, it was more like force, vigor, tension — they derived from the dancing, was the main factor keeping the gantrak off balance. The mammals, with their weird prancing about, unsettled all of the predators’ normal rhythms of behavior. In desperation, the gantrak then leaned on Sebetwe’s tekku presence to provide them with a focus. Their spirits converged with his, as it were.
He was not controlling them in the normal manner of a tekku handling a predator. With minds this great and fierce, that would be impossible. Instead, he was guiding them through the chaos, reassuring them. He was not their master so much as their mentor — it might be better to say, their spiritual counselor.
No — ha! Who could have imagined such a thing? — He was their shaman!
The first attack from the Kororo came as Zilikazi’s army was marching up a narrow and steep col two days after they entered the mountains. He’d been expecting it and had warned his commanding officers to be prepared, but it was still an unpleasant surprise.
The surprise — certainly the unpleasantness — came from the manner of the ambush, not the casualties it caused. Empathy was an emotion that, while not entirely absent from the caste of noble Liskash, was very limited in its range. More so for Zilikazi than most. The sight of his soldiers crushed and mangled by the rocks that had come crashing down the slopes was purely a matter for tactical calculation. Suffering casualties, including fatal and crippling ones, was a necessary feature of soldiers, no more to be rued or regretted than the rough hides of draft animals.