The Blackgod-2#(7)
Author:J.Gregory Keyes

    INTERLUDE: A Letter to Ghan

    Ghan, it has been long since I have written. Two moons have waxed and waned as we travel across the wildlands, since we were driven from the village of the Mang. Too much has happened for a pen to capture, and I must be brief for one cannot write in the saddle, and that is where the most of my days are spent.

    The world is stranger and more varied than I ever believed possible. Living in the palace, ?knew that I was confined, that my world was small—cut off from even the city—but a part of me never really understood what a tiny universe that was. It may be that the part of me that is River—that can only comprehend himself and never understand what lies beyond his banks—was stronger in me than I thought.

    Now I have traveled far from the palace, far from Nhol, mercifully far from the River. Fifty days I have ridden with my companions across vast plains, through jagged mountains, through forests that I am told are green even in the harshest weather. In leaving Nhol, I have lost my greatest love—the library—but here, in a sense, I find compensation: discovery, at least, and as one of my friends put it, mystery.

    My new calling is shrouded in both of these, and it terrifies me as often as it elates me, I must admit but I am coming to accept it. I have become what the Mang call a gaan, a person who talks with ghosts and gods, who cajoles them into doing favors and occasionally whips them to it. It is power, and until recently I thought I was happy to leave power back with the River. The strength that he offered was infinitely more potent than what I have acquired on the shaman's path, but the price that came along with the Rivers strength was more than I will ever be willing to pay. The cost of becoming a gaan is much lower, and one I believe I can afford. I strike bargains, most often, with my servants; all but one of them serves me because they wish, rather than because they must. Three gods dwell with me now—I acquired my latest tenant only a half-score of days ago. The first who came to live in my “mansion ”—this is what they call the place within us where the gods rest—was the ghost of a horse, and the story of that is too long to tell here, and not very typical of how a gaan normally works. The second case is even more extraordinary: that one was a strong, passionate spirit sent to attack us, and him I took by force. When I did that, Ghan, my power did fee I like that moment by the River, for it gave me the ability to command. I liked it; when that dread god knelt before me and sullenly entered into my service it made me feel like the princess I should have been. However, I shall not use force again, for now that he is there, within me, I fear him. I do not fear him so much as the things he offers; he coaxes me, promising that with his aid, no spirit can escape my power to bind, swears that I can become a shaman such as the world has not seen in a thousand years. I feel that this is true—I believe him—and so am tempted, for with enough power I could crush all of my enemies and the dangers to my friends, as well. I am tired of running, of battles, of death. And so when Hukwosha—that is the name of the Bull God—when he offers me such power, I want it. But I fear it, because it is merely another path back to what I avoided when I left the River. Ultimately my power comes from him, even this power I have to be a gaan; it is not my wish to become like him, an eater of gods. It is not my desire to become lost in dreams of conquest. I only want to live, to be free, to be left alone.

    Forgive me when I digress, but writing of my feelings helps me to comprehend them.

    This hstgodlhave acquired as a companion is—according to my teacher, Brother Horse—a more typical shaman's helper than the other two. This one I call Swan, because that is how she appeared to me. I found her in a lonely valley of ghosts, guarding their tombs. How long ago she was set there to ward them, I cannot say, and she had little sense of passing time; but all of the ghosts had departed, and Swan had nothing left to do—and yet could not herself depart. In this case there was no battle, no danger, and no desperation—only a lonely god. I offered her a place in my mansion, explaining what sort of service I would expect from her, and she agreed more than readily. After the capture of the bull, it was a great relief, and though the swan is not a powerful or ferocious helper, she comforts me in a way the others do not.

    Tsem became a warrior three days ago; he is very proud. Perkar and the others have fashioned him an enormous wooden mace and a shield with a wooden frame covered in elkhide. We were set upon by creatures Perkar names Lemeyi, which are half god and half something else. These three had the appearance of long-legged wolves. They paced us for a day before attacking, shouting with Human speech. I could have taken one—as I did the bull—but the thought repelled me. Instead I sent out the mare to attack, and she dispensed with one. Perkar dispatched a second, but it was Tsem who broke the spine of the third. It writhed and cursed at him in Nholish, scored deep claw marks into his shield, but he hit it again and again, until it did not move.

    I protested when Perkar began teaching Tsem to fight with weapons, but now I admit that he was right to do so. The Lemeyi was trying to reach me, and Tsem would have interposed himself in any case, armed or not. These creatures had claws like sickles and fangs like daggers. He would have died. As it is, he came to my rescue. He knows it, too, and walks more proudly, makes jokes readily for the first time since leaving Nhol.

    The encounter with the Lemeyi affected Perkar more than the rest of us. He has brooded almost without words since that fight. Ngangata says that Perkar was once tricked by the Blackgod in the guise of a Lemeyi. This is yet another instance that makes me wonder how much I can trust either Perkar or the Blackgod whom he names Karak.

    We began this journey in the southern Mang country, a place where only the skeletons of mountains remain. Now we are in places where mountains are in the prime of life, mountains such as I never dreamed could be. It astonishes me that a peak more magnificent than those I have seen can exist, and yet I know that it can, for ahead of us, in a forest Perkar calls Balat, She'leng awaits. I have seen it before, in the otherworld of the lake, but the memory of that place fades like a dream; the colors and shapes are difficult to remember—exactly like a dream, in fact, since Brother Horse calls dreaming “floating on the surface of the lake. ” We shamans do not merely float—we dive—but those deeper dreams are often as nonsensical as the ones at the water's edge.

    My fourteenth birthday is four moons away, and I wonder often if I shall ever see it. I think that I won't. Just as my blood moved the River to pull Perkar and me together, something is moving us all again. It seems as if instead of a mountain, She'leng must be a vast pit—an ant-lion trap. For months we liave been skittering down the widest, least sloping part of that funnel, digging in our heels sometimes, now rushing down in great leaps. The Blackgod told Perkar that what awaits us at that bottom place is the death of the River, the end of a war. Perkar believes that the war which will end will be that of his fathers people against the Mang. That may be. But it seems to me that a larger conflict rages, and neither side much cares about us save in how we might be used.

    I wish you were here. An enemy lately taunted me with the possibility of your presence. It was the only thing he offered that held temptation for me. It may be that he was telling the truth about you, and in that case lam sorry, for you have been drawn into this deepening pit with us. Perhaps we will have a chance to meet again and talk, before we reach the bottom.

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