[Grass Badger is a beasthead shaman, and Stone is the Gryphon Clerk sent to negotiate with the beastheads. They're at what is basically a hui (Google it if you're not a New Zealander).]
When Stone sat down, there was a pause, and then Grass Badger stalked out of the crowd and seized the staff.
If the speeches up until now had been aimed at unity and friendship, Grass Badger’s set a new tone. Marching back and forth, gesturing with the staff to emphasise his words, occasionally pounding it on the ground, he spoke of the growing number of incidents between beastheads and humans, the evils of the liquor trade, the greed incited by trade goods, fights over metal tools, and, above all, the raids of the Human Purity movement – though he didn’t identify them by name. He didn’t propose a course of action, but simply listed the grievances and then sat down – but inside the edge of the circle of people, not back in his place. Tiny Bird explained quietly that this meant that he intended to say more, but was giving a space for discussion of what he had said so far.
Berry expected Stone to stand up and say something, but he left this to the Clangolds and other respected speakers from the local and visiting clans. The first woman spoke directly to Grass Badger and pounded the staff on the ground as she distinguished between the humans who attacked them and the humans who defended them, the humans who traded liquor and Stone, who tried to stamp out the trade. She pointed at Stone with her other hand while she said this and shook her finger vigorously in time with the thumps of the staff.
Other speakers either agreed with Grass Badger or supported the first speaker’s points, in alternation. After six more speakers – three on each side – apparently Grass Badger’s supporters had run out, because there was a long pause, and then Grass Badger came up again to give his real speech.
Despite her attempt to retain a shaman’s calm, Berry’s stomach sank a little as Bird murmured the translation.
“Recently,” said Grass Badger, “I met a human woman who claims the status of a shaman. Now we all know that shamans own nothing. We respect a shaman because a shaman owns nothing. A shaman stands alone, walks alone, except for an apprentice perhaps. A shaman is not beholden to a Clangold, because a shaman is beyond clan and belongs to everyone. A shaman belongs to the beast, the natural beast, the beast of the land, who has marked and claimed that shaman. A shaman teaches the shaman knowledge to other shamans and to shaman apprentices – not to healers, not to mages, not to potters or weavers, but to shamans. A shaman serves apprenticeship faithfully, staying close to the master shaman who teaches, and is chosen by the natural beast of the land, who alone can release the apprentice oath, so that the office of shaman remains uncorrupted and the knowledge is passed as it is meant to be passed.
“Everyone knows this. But this human woman knows better. She broke her apprentice oath. She walks around wearing silver, the silver symbol of her oath and service to a Realmgold. She claims that her totem beast is a gryphon, a magical creature and no natural beast. She teaches the shaman knowledge to anyone who wants it, and she does not walk alone, she walks with friends who are not shamans. And she comes here, in her arrogance, to change our society and our people, to break what is true in front of us and toss it away, to lead us into her corrupted imitation of what it is to be a shaman. Oathbreaker, I name her, faithless and without principles, a teacher of wrongness and distortion. And I say that this is what we can expect if we allow these people in. Corruption, corruption, corruption and oathbreaking and evil, all the time. We are better off without them.”
He looked straight atBerry, raised the staff and slammed the end into the ground so that the shaft sank in a hand’s breadth, and stood leaning on it for a moment, breathing hard, before stalking back to his place.
There was a stunned silence. Berry felt a great calm descend from somewhere, as if she was pulling back from her body and observing herself from a distance. She saw herself stand and walk unhurriedly into the circle, and touch the staff – but not pull it from the ground.
“May I speak?” she asked quietly, and various members of the crowd called out different answers. She looked at the elder Bird, who said, clearly, in Peqtal, “Yes.”
She still didn’t pull the staff from the ground, nor did she raise her voice. But she raised her head so that the sun shone off the gryphon’s beastmark on her forehead.
“My parents are shepherds,” she began, and paused for Tiny Bird’s translation from his place in the crowd. Even sitting, his huge chest had enough resonance to reach easily to the edges of the crowd. “They have almost nothing, but I never noticed that they received much respect for that.” There were a few chuckles, some before and some after the translation – there were a number of Peqtal speakers in the audience. “A shaman is respected because a shaman needs nothing, nothing but the blessing of the totem beast, who alone can make or unmake a shaman. A shaman does not need power, or respect, or to be thought right, but only to listen to the world and to the totem beast. And a shaman is fallible.
“Grass Badger speaks of corrupted shamans. I was apprenticed to such a one. Although she had the beastmark, she did not want to be a shaman, did not want me as an apprentice. She was always angry.” Here she paused a little longer than the translation required.
“She was so angry that her anger destroyed the oath that was between us. Any shaman has seen this. Anger burns at the oathbond, pushes oathbound lovers or friends or master and apprentice or Gold and Copper apart, and one day it snaps. So it was.
“I fled in fear. I came to the Gryphon Clerks, and they took me in and treated me with kindness. I became one of them and Victory, the Realmgold and the mother of the Clerks, gave me her silver gryphon to wear in token of my service to her and to her realm. It is not mine, it is given to me in trust, and she alone can take it from me.
“I was no longer apprenticed to a shaman, but I kept some of the practices of a shaman. I lived more simply than those around me, though not as simply as a shaman does. I spent time in trance. And one day when I was in trance the Gryphon came and spoke to me, touched me on my forehead as you see, and left its mark. It is not mine, it is given to me in trust, and the Gryphon alone can take it from me.
“The Gryphon spoke to me, and told me to serve Victory, and so in serving her I obey the Gryphon. If the Gryphon tells me otherwise I will stop, for I must obey the Gryphon. Only the Gryphon has authority to tell me who to serve.
“So I come here, for Victory has sent me. And she has sent me to do this: to discover and report to her what the people who live here need, and how it can be given to you.
“Not what you want. Not what we want to give you. Not what will make you exactly like us. What you need. I do not know yet what you need. If I knew that, I would not need to come, I would not need to speak to you. So far I know that you are a happy people, you are a healthy people, and most of what you need you already have. Perhaps you need nothing from us, and we can leave you as you are. We do not know yet.
“What I do know is that Victory would not want us to impose on you against your will. Anything you get from us, you will get because you have agreed with us that you need it. And we will ask as many of you as we can. Golds, Silvers and Coppers. Cattleheads, dogheads, goatheads, sheepheads, horseheads and catheads alike.
“But I ask you this. Do not let the people who are angry decide what you need. Do not let the people who are afraid decide what you need. Do not let the people who are greedy decide what you need. I have lived under the rule of an angry master. I did not learn much, except that angry people don’t think very well.
“I am a shepherd’s daughter from the mountains, and I grew up in a little world. Now I live in a much bigger world, and it is full of wonders. I never regret having opened up my little world, because I am not afraid of what might be out there. If you are afraid, talk to us, and perhaps we can show you a way out of fear. And perhaps you can show us wonders that we do not know yet.
“Thank you for listening to what I had to say.”