“So that’s our new Amryn,” Tava said, once Hashta had vanished.
“You hadn’t met him before?” Tam started picking his way back down the tumbled rocks, and Tava followed him.
“I’m sorry he was so rude.”
“Hardly your fault.” Tava chuckled. “Actually, I think you schooled him pretty nicely in manners. I’m looking forward to seeing how this falls out.”
“What, the investigating?”
“No, you and him. In the long run.”
“Oh.” Tam thought about what Hashta had said. I’m your Amryn. In the future, he would have to work with Hashta like the Queen worked with the current Amryn, sharing the job of keeping an eye on Shandor. He hoped they would be able to do that. Hashta seemed to have his heart in the right place, even if he had some rough edges. Maybe he came from the far north and hadn’t met many different sorts of people yet. “What clan are you, Tava?” he asked.
“Stone Wolf.” That was one of the more northerly clans, Tam knew. Tava slapped the tool belt she wore slung over one shoulder. That was part of the ceremonial dress for Stone Wolf, a baldric that had once been useful for holding a sword at your side and a shield on your back. Tava’s belt did hold a sword, but it also held her rifle, her canteen, and her compass, as well as having many handy pockets that contained ammunition and trail rations. “We Stone Wolf warriors,” Tava said, “have a long tradition of guarding Kings and Amryns. We take pride in being prepared for anything.”
“So you don’t mind rifles?” Tam had seen some warriors who carried guns, and others who didn’t. Most folk in Shandor probably had a gun to frighten off wild animals. Tam’s father had one that lived above the door and got cleaned and polished every week, nice and regular, but Tam had never seen him use it except to fire in the air on militia days. But warriors weren’t like other folk. They had special rules about what they could and couldn’t do.
Tava put her lips together. She sounded testy, though not, Tam thought, at him. “It’s not honorable for a warrior to fight an enemy at a distance. We show our skill hand to hand, sword to sword. Any fool with a gun can kill from halfway up a mountain, these days.”
Tam thought about the pirates in the Tembelakan islands, and the scar he still had from being shot by them, and said nothing.
“But that’s why, as a bodyguard, I must carry a rifle,” Tava said. “If any such fool appeared, with you in his sights, by the time I could reach him and slay him with an honorable weapon, you would be dead. The life of my charge is worth more to me than my personal honor. Some other warriors feel the same way. Not all.”
“Oh.” Tam wasn’t sure he liked having a bodyguard. Bodyguards did things like jump in front of bullets to save you. It had been the worst moment of his life when Professor Sheridan did that, last summer. Tam had felt everything at once—his own pain and shock at being shot, and the Professor’s pain on top of that, and Jon’s terror, which was worst of all. He never wanted to feel anything like that again. “Well, I hope you don’t ever have to shoot anyone,” he told Tava.
“So do I.”
The two of them rejoined the others, who were waiting on the path. The Healer raised a quizzical eyebrow, but Tam wasn’t sure he should tell about Hashta in front of everyone. Hashta might also be one of those not-telling-yet secrets.
As they rounded the edge of the mountain and then wound down it in a series of switch-backs for the rest of the afternoon, Tam listened for Hashta. It was true, what he’d told Hashta about being able to find him. Now that he knew what to listen for, Tam could easily hear Hashta’s drums bounding off—well, it was still hard to tell exactly where he was. In the same direction they were heading, more or less.
They reached the Color Finders’ camp before nightfall. It was smaller than other mountain camps Tam had seen, maybe two dozen tents. They were big tents, though, and looked like they’d been here a while. Many had little gardens growing around them. Tam thought he saw turnip tops, carrots, and climbing beans, all a little smaller than the ones back home. This must be one of the clans that only moved a few times each year.
Someone must have seen them coming, because a welcoming committee met them at the edge of the camp, a half dozen men and women all in colored scarves. None of them looked sick. They presented the Healer and his companions with a polite drink first of water, then of fruity wine, from a big welcoming bowl. Tam made sure not to spill anything, and tried to remember the right responses to the various greetings. Palma seemed to know all the words, so he copied what she said when he got lost.
The oldest man in the group—still not as old as the Healer—stepped forward and introduced himself as Hural, the clan chieftain. “You are welcome, of course, to stay in our camp as long as you wish,” he told the Healer, “though I still say there was no need for you to come yourself. The clan mothers who sent the message were perhaps hasty in their summons, and over-dramatic in their estimation of the illness.” He frowned at one of the women in the welcoming committee, who frowned right back.
“Has the illness passed, then?” the Healer asked, keeping a mild expression, looking from the clan mother to the chieftain.
Tam looked at them both, too, and listened. Each had their own little discordant notes, the man’s louder, the woman’s more muted. He couldn’t guess what they meant, beyond the obvious frustration.
“Not precisely,” Hural said. “But no one’s died of it, even those who’ve had it for the longest. And enough of them can get up and about—it’s no sort of epidemic at all,” he assured the Healer.
“Two babies have died,” the woman said, folding her arms. “And there’s hardly a child now not showing symptoms.”
“The babies were both sickly to begin with,” Hural said. “Of course we mourn their loss, but it’s not uncommon to lose infants who are winter-born.”
The Healer raised a hand, a calming gesture, as the woman opened her mouth to protest. “Let me see the children who are ill.”
“We’ve set up an infirmary in the clan hall.” Hural gestured to a larger, permanent structure, one of two such buildings outside the rings of tents. The smaller building had a chimney and was probably a forge, and the larger was like a big barn for the clan to gather in when the weather was poor.
The sun, which had been behind the mountains for some time, barely lit the sky at all as they made their way to the clan hall. Inside, bright oil lamps hung from the roof-beams, and candle-lanterns stood by the bedsteads. Instead of bedrolls, the healers had set up cots for the sick, to raise them off the ground away from unhealthy damp, the clan mother told them.
“We’ve been doing our best,” she explained. “We’ve tried the old ways and the new. Teo here,” she gestured at one of the healers, a younger man with his hair in a tail like Djaren’s, “has studied down at the University, and had ideas to try, more than the usual herbs.”
“In Markerry?” Tam asked. Now that Jon was taking classes there, Tam had become more interested in the University that stood so near their farm.
Teo nodded, coming over to greet them. “Of course. I do remember your lectures, sir.” He bobbed his head at the Healer. “Thank you for taking the time to come and look into this.”
The Healer introduced Palma, and before Tam or the warriors had a chance to say their names or give any sort of greeting, polite or hurried, the three healers were off to examine the sick people. Tam hung back, with Tava beside him, to watch the goings-on from a bit of a distance. He didn’t mind sick people, but healer examinations sometimes involved taking off clothes, and he didn’t want to see anything he shouldn’t. Besides, he was supposed to be listening to see if anything sounded off, so he stood back, and scanned all the people about, and listened.
It was mostly children, here, nearly a dozen of them, with just four adult men. Several were asleep, and so harder to hear. None of them sounded precisely well, though he wasn’t sure how an illness that wasn’t natural would sound different from one that was. It wasn’t until he’d puzzled uselessly over that for a time that he realized the obvious thing that should have struck him the moment he walked in here—one of the men wasn’t making any sound at all. Tam knew what that sort of silence meant. This man was a foreigner.