Ice Yearning

Ice Yearning

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Chapter One

Maalioh looked around the vault of the sky, its deep blue paling only a little around the crescent sun rising over the eastern hills. A single comet was visible, but there wasn't a cloud in sight. Sighing, he looked down again; the disturbed surface confirmed that there had been no snowfall in the night. Pulling his hood tighter, Maalioh hefted the bucket, and resigned himself to climbing the hills to find undisturbed snow.

The metallic clamour of the bell stopped him in his tracks when his climb had barely begun. He spun round to look across the village to the shrine, but nothing looked out of place. The narrow lake sparkled in the morning sun, and the houses set around the shore showed no sign of problems. At the far end of the lake stood the hill, topped by the red stone bulk of the shrine. The bell continued to ring out its warning, and Maalioh hurried back to the house.

By the time he reached the land door, a stiff breeze had picked up in the previously-still air, and the alarm bell was still ringing from the shrine. It must be something really urgent, Maalioh concluded, as he ducked his head and dodged through the passage's dogleg with the ease of long practice. He dropped the bucket in the porch, and then swept aside the curtains and went into the main room, quickly letting them drop behind him.

"Master?" The sound of the bell was muted, but clearly audible. Tohflair's voice came from the infirmary, off to the right.

"Maalioh? Excellent. Just take your gloves off and come here to help me with Fiitan." Maalioh dropped his gloves on the table, as he began sweating in the warmth of the interior. Behind the curtain, Tohflair had already got Fiitan onto a stretcher, and had started binding furs around his legs. The fisherman, sitting up, was pulling on a tunic, and when his face appeared it was set against the pain.

"What should I do, master?" Even before Tohflair spoke, Maalioh was moving towards the stretcher.

"Finish binding Fiitan on, while I get dressed." Maalioh nodded, and wrapped a thong around Fiitan's waist, trying to avoid putting any pressure on the broken thigh. In the background the bell was still ringing.

"Do you have any idea what it is?" Tohflair's voice came from further down the house, where he slept and kept his clothes. Maalioh paused to hand Fiitan an outer tunic, and then called his answer back.

"It may be a storm spirit, master. The wind rose very quickly after the ringing started."

"Storm spirit? Oh well, at least no-one is out on the sea."

Fiitan had pulled the tunic on, and gently lowered himself back to the bed, breathing heavily. Maalioh continued wrapping his legs, putting a final layer of fur over the top.

"Is this bearable?" he asked. Fiitan took a sharp breath, but nodded.

"Better than falling off the stretcher, anyway." Maalioh nodded back in acknowledgement, and tied off the final thong. He could feel the sweat running down his back, but there was no time to do anything about it.

Outside, the wind had risen so that its howling competed with the ringing of the bell. A sudden crash of thunder, accompanied by a flare of light from the water door at the far end of the house, confirmed the arrival of the storm, and the bell stopped moments later, just as Tohflair came back into the infirmary.

"I certainly hope the bell was for the storm spirit; if there's something else as well we have real problems." He looked over the bindings, and nodded once, not even glancing at Maalioh. "These will do. Let's get moving." Maalioh darted out of the infirmary to grab his gloves, pulling them on as Tohflair extinguished the lamp and grasped his end of the stretcher. Maalioh turned his back on his master, and took up the handles at Fiitan's feet. Doctor and apprentice alike grunted as they lifted the fisherman; he was never the most slender member of the tribe. After a moment to find their balance, they stepped sideways away from the trestles, and manoeuvred the stretcher around the curtains that defined the infirmary.

The thunderclap was like an explosion, and the light from the land door was blindingly bright as the ground shook under them. The thunder seemed to continue for a long time, although that might just have been the ringing in Maalioh's ears. As his eyes readjusted to the gloom, he could see a pile of snow pushing the exit curtains inward.

They went forward anyway, but when Maalioh swept the curtain away with his foot he was not surprised to see a jumble of snow and ice; the lightning had struck the porch.


"I can see it, Maalioh. Fiitan, the land door is blocked. We're going to have to put you back on the trestles while we try to clear it." Fiitan said nothing, and Maalioh could not see if he responded in any other way, so the apprentice took that as acquiescence, at least, and turned the stretcher back to the infirmary.

When they returned to the doorway, things did not look good. There was no sign of light through the debris, and the quilting around the door bulged ominously inwards. Maalioh and Tohflair both prodded gently around the edges, provoking nothing more than small falls of snow and ice. The howl of the wind was still clearly audible, punctuated by crashes of thunder, but Maalioh wasn't even sure he could see the lightning.

"We have to clear it." Tohflair did not sound happy.

"Yes, master. Do we have time?" The doctor shrugged, and began pulling off his gloves and outer tunic.

"The storm spirit obviously isn't concentrating on this house, but it will doubtless be back. Or maybe Sairtowa and Faaniloh will drive it off first." Maalioh nodded, and began stripping off his outer garments. "Either way," Tohflair continued, "we need to clear this exit if we're going to get to the shrine."

Soon, both were down to their light inner tunics, and Tohflair started unhooking the curtains so that they could see what they were dealing with. Maalioh stood out of his way, looking at the bulging quilting. If that fell in... And that made him think of something.

"Master, shouldn't we put a frame over Fiitan?"

"What? A frame?"

"In case the roof collapses." Tohflair froze for a moment.

"A tent. Quickly, we'll put a tent up over him." Maalioh ran to the storage area to get one out, while Tohflair went to explain to the patient. By the time Maalioh got there, Fiitan had his eyes closed, and was breathing rapidly. Maalioh had to sympathise; he was starting to panic himself, and he didn't already have a broken leg.

As the two of them set the tent up, bracing the whalebone struts and checking that the layers of leather were properly fixed, he forced himself to calm down. The quilting would absorb a lot of the force even if the roof did give way; at worst he would be trapped, not crushed. Without broken limbs, he would be able to wriggle out, unless he was really unlucky. Fiitan was the only one with real grounds for concern on that point. He tried not to think about the consequences of being trapped, effectively outside, in a storm, or about the possibility of being suffocated by the quilting. It was too late, of course, and as lurid images raced through his imagination he eagerly followed Tohflair over to the door, desperate to take his mind off the dangers.

It didn't help. The blocks of ice and snow in the exit were heavy and thoroughly stuck in place; there were clearly more blocks above the doorway, from the upper part of the porch tower, and the two of them together could not get any of the blocks within reach to move. Even though he knew that the roof was only one layer of ice above the quilting, Maalioh could not help imagining being trapped under a pile like the one in front of him. Maybe the storm spirit would drop huge amounts of snow on them first, so that they could be buried and suffocated anyway.

When Tohflair admitted defeat and stood back, Maalioh did so too, trying to take deep breaths to calm himself. Thunder roared almost constantly now, and the flicker of lightning from the water door was enough to see by. The howl of the wind was almost as loud as the thunder, and Maalioh wondered whether the roof was still there. The ground shook again as lightning struck close by, and water began dripping off the icy barrier as the warmth of the interior finally took hold.

"Master! We can melt the ice!" Tohflair turned to look at Maalioh, his face half puzzled, half angry.

"Water from the lake, master," Maalioh continued. "It's warm enough to melt the ice quite quickly. We can melt it at the top, to make enough space to get out." Tohflair thought about it for a few more moments, and then nodded.

"It should work. Fetch buckets." They headed down to the water door, and dipped their buckets into the warm water of the lake. The water porch was still intact, flexing and drumming as the wind roared around it, and the surface of the lake was rougher than Maalioh could remember it. They filled the buckets quickly, and ran back to the entrance, throwing the water over the ice at the top.

The snow melted quickly, vanishing as soon as the water touched it, but the effect on the blocks of ice was much less obvious. Most of the water just ran down on to the floor, melting more of the snow on its way.

"More water!" Tohflair shouted, barely making himself heard over the noise of the storm, and the two of them ran back to the water door.

After the third set of buckets it was clear that they were having an effect, but also clear that it was too slow. Maalioh could see that the water wasn't in contact with the ice for long enough to have much effect, but he couldn't think of any way to hold it there. All of his plans with tents and buckets would either take too long or have too many leaks. Still, the buckets were not a complete waste of time, and would have to do until he could think of something better.

After the fifth set, Tohflair stopped.

"We need something more efficient. Can you think of anything?" Maalioh was already moving back to the water door.

"Not yet, master. I can't think of a way to hold the water in place." Maalioh was starting to feel short of breath, but he didn't stop moving to answer his teacher.

The next blast of lightning knocked him off his feet. He lay, dazed, on the floor for a few moments, and then slowly picked himself up. There was nothing pressing down on him, and he looked around for the damage. Immediately behind him, the quilting was bent down half way to the floor, and he could hear ominous creaking sounds from the whale bone struts beyond.

"Master?" In the half-light, he could not see clearly beyond the collapsing ceiling.

"I'm fine. We need to prop this bit up quickly, before it takes the whole quilting down." Maalioh glanced around, and grabbed a pile of blanket and cushions, wedging them under the centre of the depression to take some of the weight. He could now see Tohflair, on the other side, wedging curtain stands around the edges of the fallen ceiling, and he quickly gathered a few of his own.

Getting the supports in place took longer than Maalioh had hoped, and he could tell from Tohflair's face that the doctor wasn't happy, either. He was dripping with sweat, despite his light tunic, and his breathing was deep and ragged. As they prodded at the quilting around the fallen ice, Maalioh saw his master square his shoulders.

"More water. We have to get the exit cleared." Maalioh glanced around for his buckets, and then hurried back to the water door, Tohflair a short distance behind him. The lightning flared white in the water, reflecting in crazy patterns off the inside of the porch, and then flared again, broken into a thousand tiny shards as a white figure burst out of the lake and landed cleanly to stand between them.

"Soliin?" Tohflair broke the silence as the moonchild shook the water from her naked body.

"There are other moonchildren on this island? Are you going blind in your old age?" It was definitely Soliin, Maalioh thought.

"What are you doing here?" Tohflair, as always, tried not to let her rudeness affect him. Maalioh just kept his mouth shut, hoping to avoid being beaten up this time.

"Isn't it obvious? Sairtowa sent me to rescue you, and we need to get a move on. So stop staring and let's go." Maalioh immediately dropped his eyes to the floor, feeling his face heat up as blood rushed to it.

"We have to take Fiitan with us, so we need to clear a proper exit. And some of us can't run naked through a blizzard."

"I'm well aware of your shortcomings, old man. You and the boy get dressed, and let me worry about the exit." Maalioh bristled at that, but didn't dare say anything. "Old man" was a bit harsh about Tohflair, but Maalioh was a year older than Soliin. He glanced at her surreptitiously as he pulled his outdoor clothes back on; she had developed a lot in the last year, and barely qualified as a "girl" any more, which meant that Maalioh himself had to be a man. She was walking around the fallen ceiling, kicking aside the props they had so carefully put in place, and inspecting the quilting. Then, reaching up, she grabbed it either side of a seam and, in one smooth motion, ripped it open. The icy rubble collapsed into the interior, along with a mass of snow, and the howling wind. Soliin disappeared into the whiteness for a moment.

"Maalioh, stop staring at the girl and come and help me with Fiitan." At the sound of his master's voice, Maalioh suddenly realised that he had not taken his eyes off Soliin while he dressed. Blushing again, he hurried to the infirmary, where they quickly removed the tent. Fiitan looked very relieved to see them.

"We're getting out?"

"We are. But we still have to get through the storm. Ready?" The fisherman nodded, and Tohflair and Maalioh seized the stretcher and headed for the exit Soliin had created.

They found a hole in the roof, which Soliin had expanded by knocking more blocks of ice in through it, but they could see nothing through it but swirling show, lit by occasional flashes of lightning. For a moment, Maalioh thought Soliin had abandoned them.

"Well, pass him up! Near the edge." Her voice came down, and they strained to raise the stretcher above their heads. Suddenly it became lighter and was pulled from their hands, as Fiitan screamed even above the sound of the wind.

"His leg! Be careful of his leg!" Maalioh shouted up. There was no response for a moment, and then an arm shot down, grabbed his shoulder, and pulled him sharply up, throwing him onto the snow that covered what remained of the house. He landed heavily, and cried out as his shoulder crashed into the ice.

"Be careful of your own, boy." Maalioh sat up, and could just make Soliin out against the snow as she reached back down and pulled Tohflair up, apparently somewhat rather more gently. Maalioh tried to get to his feet, but was knocked down as Soliin punched him in the chest, sending him sliding over the side of the house and into the snow drifting around it.

"Don't stand on the roof, you moron. The wind will catch you." Soliin slid quickly down, landing on her feet and then pulling the stretcher down. Fiitan screamed again, but Maalioh thought the girl was being a bit more gentle with it than before. Tohflair slithered into the snow beside Maalioh, and then reached out a hand to pull his apprentice up. Maalioh realised that he had just been sitting there, and stood quickly.

There was almost nothing to see but snow, and nothing to hear but the howling of the wind. The sun had vanished completely, and what light there was came from lightning, which seemed to illuminate a world equally white in all directions.

"I'll go in front. Take one of the rear handles of the stretcher each. Don't lose your grip; I doubt you can see where you're going." Maalioh could still just pick out Soliin's shape, apparently completely unperturbed by the cold that he could already feel seeping through his layers of fur. He picked up the stretcher, and immediately Soliin started off, pushing forward through the snow. Despite the wind, some remained on the ground to catch at their feet, while the air was thick with it. Every step was a battle against the wind, either to stay on track or to make any headway at all, as it shifted direction from moment to moment. Soliin remained confident, guiding them forward without apparently missing a step, and very soon Maalioh found that he had to focus all of his effort on not falling behind. He glanced down at Fiitan's face, and saw that his jaw was clenched, his eyes closed. Every jerking step they took must be jolting his leg, Maalioh realised. He risked a quick glance at Tohflair, and saw the doctor looking down at the patient as well.

The wind was too loud to speak over, but there was nothing to say anyway. They had to get Fiitan to the shrine, and there was no way they could do that smoothly. Even though the ground beneath their feet seemed to be quite level, the snow and wind made it impossible to keep a steady footing, especially at the pace Soliin set.

As they advanced, Maalioh realised that the thunder and lightning were ahead of them, and getting closer. Now he could feel the ground shake a little with every strike, and the cracks of thunder were clearly louder than the wind. It took him a moment to work out what was happening; the storm spirit was focusing its attack on the shrine and, presumably, Sairtowa. But in that case, how would they get in?

"Soliin!" Maalioh yelled as loudly as he could, but had no idea whether the Moonchild heard him. "Soliin! The storm is attacking the shrine! We can't go through that! We can't go straight to the shrine!" For a moment he thought that she hadn't heard, but then she came to an abrupt stop, almost dropping the stretcher. Maalioh could hear Fiitan's scream, and he and Tohflair quickly lowered the stretcher to the ground.

Soliin came back to the head of the stretcher, and moved very close to Maalioh. The world seemed to be nothing but her red eyes floating in whiteness.

"Are you sure?" she yelled, and Maalioh could just about hear her.

"The lightning is nearly all ahead of us. Why else?"

"Speculation? Oh, Towa's pus-ridden arse, I thought you actually knew something." For a moment, Maalioh thought she was going to hit him, but she just went back to the front of the stretcher and picked it up. Maalioh and Tohflair scrambled to get their end before she dragged Fiitan through the snow.

Their progress got no easier, and the storm got louder. By the time they had reached the hill and the bottom of the stairs to the shrine, it was obvious that Maalioh had been right. Lighting struck against the hill and through the air, creating explosions of snow. They could see and hear nothing but the battle, and there was no way they could climb the stairs with the stretcher. Soliin said nothing, but motioned for them to put the stretcher down before running a few steps and jumping into the lake.

Maalioh and Tohflair huddled closer together, around Fiitan.

"Has she abandoned us?" Maalioh asked, shouting as loud as he could.

"I hope she's gone for help," Tohflair replied. "I hope it finds us before the spirit does."

"Will it?"

Tohflair shrugged. "As long as the spirit is fighting Sairtowa." Maalioh thought about that for a moment.

"How is Soliin going to get help?"

"Swim up the channel from the lake, I suppose."

"Can she do that?" Fiitan asked.

"I don't think she ever has." Maalioh fell silent at Tohflair's reply, and started wondering whether they could seek shelter in the lake. That really depended on how Hiiron felt about them, of course, and Maalioh was not at all sure that it would risk a fight for them, despite the pact.

Maalioh couldn't be sure whether they had waited for hours, or whether it was merely minutes that felt like hours. Actually, that wasn't true; had it really been hours he would have had frostbite, and he could still feel the cold in his fingers. It still felt like far too long before he saw the first signs that someone would come for them; a dark spot, getting steadily larger, in the white of the snow. At first it kept appearing and disappearing, but soon it was definitely there. He nudged his master and pointed.

The spot turned into a bubble of empty air surrounding Ketaa, the apprentice shaman. She walked down the stone steps with her hood down, her black hair streaming about her head, and the red spirit band painted across the brown skin of her face. Her eyes looked out of the band, startling green.

Tohflair motioned Maalioh to the front of the stretcher, and he took up his end of the burden. Carefully, they started climbing the steps towards Ketaa. The storm spirit did not seem to have noticed her, or them, yet, but they did not know how long that could last. The less time they were outside Sairtowa's protection, the better.

As they climbed, the wind at times seemed to try to pluck them from the steps and throw them into the lake. Every time a gust blew in that direction, Maalioh's heart rose into his throat, knowing that if the wind really was trying to throw them off, the spirit had noticed them, and they were doomed. Each time, however, they were able to keep their footing, and move forward, until finally Maalioh stumbled through an invisible barrier, and found that the air was still, almost warm, and free of snow. He kept moving, glancing back constantly, until Tohflair was also within it. Ketaa stood beside Fiitan, between them, and turned to face back uphill. She took a deep breath, and nodded. Maalioh turned back to the front, and began walking.

They had climbed fifty steps before the spirit noticed them. The lightning exploded against the barrier that Sairtowa had put around them, but nothing more than the light got through.

"Move!" The sound came from Ketaa's mouth, but it was not her voice. Maalioh shivered, as he always did when he heard a spirit speak, and tried to find the energy to pick up the pace. It was hard, especially as lightning continued to explode around them, followed by gusts of wind bearing huge quantities of snow, and even hailstones that shattered against Sairtowa's protection. It seemed that their ancestress spoke again every few steps, urging them to more speed.

The steps seemed to go on for ever, with every step forward revealing nothing more than another step to take. But then the step ahead of them became broader, and the plateau on top of the hill became visible. Another few steps, and they stood on it, the double lintel of the shrine gate appearing ahead of them. Ketaa guided them to the right-hand entrance, and, as they passed through, bowing their heads, the violence of the storm seemed to vanish into the distance.

Within the red stone wall that marked the shrine precincts, the air was still, and the ground only thinly coated with snow. Even the flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder seemed to be moderated, despite clearly happening just beyond the wall. As soon as they were inside Ketaa slumped slightly, her breathing turning ragged as she pulled her hood up. She said nothing, but led the way to the shrine building.

The shrine towered above them, the wall vertical and shining, tapering to a sharp point where the side walls met to form the roof. Ketaa took them to the right-hand door, bowing formally to it before pulling it open and leading the way inside. Maalioh also bowed his head as he crossed the threshold, unable to do more due to the stretcher. Ketaa was waiting beside the door, and closed it behind them.

"Put the stretcher down on those benches," Tohflair said. "We'll take some of the furs off before taking you through." The shrine vestibule was much warmer than outside, and Ketaa had sat down on one of the benches, breathing hard as she began removing her outer cloak. Maalioh set the stretcher down and pulled his gloves off, turning his attention to the thongs he had tied around Fiitan's legs. His fingers were numb, and it took a while for him to get a grip on the knots. Fiitan was sitting up, and struggling out of the outer tunic.

"Thank you. That seems like a powerful spirit," he said. Ketaa replied before Maalioh or Tohflair could say anything.

"It was simply my duty as shaman. I do not think that this spirit is any threat to us now that we are within the shrine, and Sairtowa will drive it off soon." Fiitan nodded in acknowledgement, and then lay down again, wincing slightly.

"I really could have chosen a better time to break my leg," he said, an edge of amusement in his voice. "And to think I was upset about missing the festival on Miisesaa." Maalioh smiled, and Tohflair chuckled out loud.

"You kept me here, as well, you know," the doctor said, his tone light. "I'm still young enough for the festival, and Maalioh could have dealt with most emergencies." Maalioh blushed at the unaccustomed praise, and Fiitan laughed.

"The real test of that is whether Sairtowa lets you off the island. Right, Ketaa?"

"Our ancestress wants what is best for the village." The voice was Liifa's, and Maalioh spun round to sink to his knees. His master did the same.

"My lady, thank you for your protection," Tohflair said. The elderly shaman shook her head gently.

"Not mine, but Sairtowa's. I and Ketaa are merely her vessels. But I am glad to see that you made it here safely. When Nairla reported that the storm spirit had destroyed the entrance to your house, we feared that you would be trapped." Tohflair nodded.

"Soliin got us out; did she make it back to the shrine?" With a shock, Maalioh realised that Soliin might not have made it; Tohflair was right that she had never swum up the water channel before.

"She did. And so Sairtowa possessed Ketaa to come for you. Oh, you may rise. No need to kneel for this long. Now, get your outer things off and come into the main shrine. There are a few minor injuries, and once you have rested I would like you to look at them."

Ketaa left with Liifa, giving Tohflair and Maalioh a chance to collect their thoughts before facing everyone else, as well as time to get out of their outdoor clothes. Fiitan was staring up at the ceiling, blushing a little.

"Don't worry," Tohflair said. "Liifa wasn't annoyed." The fisherman shook his head.

"It's not that. Mother sent people out looking for me. Again." Maalioh turned away quickly to hide his smile, then, with his face under control, went back to the front of the stretcher, and looked to Tohflair for guidance.

"Yes, Maalioh. I think we should brave the main chamber now. Don't worry, Fiitan, I'm sure Nairla is waiting for you."

"I don't suppose we could go back outside? No..." Fiitan sighed, and visibly attempted to compose himself. Maalioh made less attempt to hide his smile this time, and started reaching for the stretcher. Then, mentally kicking himself, he stood up.

"I'll open the doors, master," he said over his shoulder, walking across the vestibule to push the right hand doors into the main chamber open.

The light within was, as ever, the dancing red and blue of Hiiron's Flame, in stark contrast to the whale-oil lamps in the vestibule. As he opened the doors, he heard the murmur of many voices, quickly falling silent as they noticed his activity. Hurrying back, he took his end of the stretcher and led the way into the nave.

Here there was no ceiling, the two sloped walls rising all the way to their peak. At the back the red and blue light of the flame danced up through the floor grille, painting elaborate and ever-changing patterns on the walls around it. The skulls of the ancestors looked down reassuringly from the frames around the edge, while the living Piisairtowa, gathered on the central benches, had all turned to look at them. Maalioh could feel himself blushing.

His blush deepened when one of the women let out a sound that was almost a scream, and came rushing over.

"My baby! You are safe!" Nairla dashed to the head of the stretcher, followed by her wife Wohsair and daughter Tiisam, who looked almost as embarrassed as Fiitan had. While Nairla fussed over her son, Wohsair took the time to thank Tohflair. Tiisam joined her, but glanced round.

"Thank you, too, Maalioh." She smiled, and now Maalioh was sure he was blushing more than anyone. Tiisam was a few years older than he, and already one of the tribe's best hunters. To take his mind off her, he scanned the crowd, looking for his mother. She was looking at him, but she simply smiled, and nodded. Maalioh smiled back, and turned his attention to looking for somewhere to put the stretcher down, as soon as they could extract themselves from Nairla.

He was interrupted by Soliin's appearance in front of him, still wet but now wrapped in her ice bear cloak.

"Well?" she demanded, her voice and eyes challenging.

"Er... thank you."

"Thank you?" Now she sounded incredulous, and loud. Maalioh was sure that everyone was staring at them, even if they hadn't been before. "Thank you? Is that all? I risked my life for you, going out in that storm, and then swimming up the water channel, and all you can say is "thank you"?" Her hand flashed up and slapped his face. Maalioh rocked back, blinking back reflexive tears, and tightened his grip on the handles of the stretcher. He had no idea what to say next.

"Soliin!" Liifa's voice was surprisingly powerful for her age. "You went because you were commanded to go." Somehow, this information did not surprise Maalioh in the slightest. "You have no excuse for that behaviour."

"I still risked my life." Soliin was quieter now, almost sulky, but still defiant, and the shaman had come up to stand beside them. The wrinkles around her eyes were permanently red where the paint for the spirit band had become ground in, but her brown eyes still sparkled with life.

"You did. But you did not offer. Maalioh also risked his life to save the patient, so I believe his level of gratitude is quite appropriate." Soliin said nothing, but the look she shot at Maalioh was angry, promising violence. He sighed silently, even as he enjoyed the shaman's praise. Tohflair broke in.

"And even Maalioh and I were just doing our duty as doctors, and as members of the tribe. Duty deserves no thanks."

"I'm neither of those things!" Soliin spat it out without thinking, and then seemed to shrink within herself as Liifa turned on her.

"You are a part of this tribe in many ways, Soliin. Do not forget it. You owe your life to the tribe as much, or more, as to the moon." Then Liifa turned to Tohflair. "And, doctor, while no thanks are required for duty, that does not mean that they are not deserved." She took two steps back, and drew herself up. The tribe fell silent, realising that she was about to speak formally.

"Tohflair, Maalioh, Soliin, on behalf of Sairtowa and her tribe, I thank you for your courage today." She bowed formally, and straightened up with a twinkle in her eyes. "Now, find somewhere to put that stretcher down before you drop Fiitan on his mother's feet."

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