art by Tim Stewart
A Ribbon For A Shaman
by S.J. Hirons
When the shaman was done tying his ribbon around the middle of our pig, my father stood and watched the old man doddering off down the lane for a long time. A few months ago I would have expected my father, the notary of our little town, to have berated the old man, but now I was not surprised when he did no such thing. He only leant on the slats of our fence, pensively watching the shaman depart, uttering not one word. We could neither feed nor water the pig now until the shaman was done with whatever spell it was he had been casting these last few weeks.
"I didn't like the way he tipped his hat to me," my father muttered as he strode past me and back to the house. "That's all." I watched him go into the house, knowing he would be ascending the stairs one last time, before he left for his office, to see to mother.
I went and stood where he had stood and looked along the lane myself, but the shaman was gone.
Mother's illness had started the year before, a strange and sleepy sickness that knocked all the breath from her, like one of those strong, errant gusts that can make you feel like you're suffocating as you walk along the High Folds. That feeling is like drowning on dry land. Mother's healthy tan had etiolated through the summer until she wore only a wan pallor and she'd had to take to her bed--the bed from which she still hadn't stirred. Plans for me to go to university had been postponed until some arrangement for her could be made, or she evinced a sustained recovery. I didn't mind. I had always made good grades but was never one for career paths. Friends who had gone away last Ten-Month made out that I wasn't missing much at first, but at year's end, when they were home, it was apparent from their riotous talk that life in The Gosling's big cities was more thrilling than anything our sleepy, slumbering existence on the borderlands offered. I didn't care; I wanted my mother back--that was all.
Consensus opinion in the town was that the shaman had fallen to incipient senility. Over the last few weeks the number of his ribbons bedecking the town had multiplied a thousand-fold. A shaman's ribbons are, of course, inviolable. Once a shaman has tied his ribbon to a thing--whatever it may be--no other human being may interfere with that thing until the ribbon is removed. When I was younger the only shamans' ribbons I ever saw were those that were tied around the Split-Tree on the edge of town, where the reign of The Gosling begins to end and the land falls in its till towards the country of the Jen-An. Later, in my teenage years, my friends and I might see a rock, or suchlike, on our rambles that the old fellow had made sacrosanct. The ribbons meant "…do not touch this thing. This thing has business with me, or I with it…" and, even as teenagers, we respected that. None in our land would dare disrupt the business of any shaman.