The third night out their pattern changed. They drew up to camp, aways back from the road, shortly before dusk as usual, but Rofan was edgy. Lukam watched as he muttered something to his brother and then approached Jariel Janir where she stood watching the campfire catch on the tinder.
“You sure?” her low voice carried to where he stood with the horses.
“I am sure, my lady” Rofan growled back. Jariel nodded, then stared at the ground for a moment, stiring the dust with her boot toe. Satisfied with something, she stooped down and picked up six, no seven, objects from the ground. Lukam would swear later they were just pebbles like the countless others scattered around the clearing. Next he watched as Jariel walked slowly round their burgeoning camp at the limits of the firelight, bending down at intervals to place a pebble on the ground.
“Ei, doi, kay, hir, vir, lar-tei” she muttered one word with each stone. Back at the fire, she raised the last and seventh pebble to her forehead, muttered “sai” and placed it in the pouch that hung from her belt. Lukam felt as if someone was watching over his shoulder, but as he made to turn, Jariel knotted the pouch shut and the feeling was gone. He shook himself slightly, shivering at the cool night air. Jariel then continued her preparations for their dinner as if nothing out the way had happened.
“What was that?” He queried Kriss as he neared the fire himself.
“What was what, mercenary?”
“With the pebbles? What LeiLei – he had slipped into the habit of calling her the Chalman for lady as all the others did early on – was doing?”
“Oh. The lady was just casting the boundaries”. Kriss caught his puzzlement. “More’n that, you need ask the lady your questions yourself”. Kriss turned away to check on their guests, effectively closing the conversation.
Nothing loath, Lukam approached Jariel at the cookpot.
“Jariel Janir? May I talk with you?”
“Of course mercenary. Sit. You can peel those roots whilst you’re at it”. Grey eyes smiles over her saibu. Recognising a superior authority, Lukam grinned in return, admitted defeat, and set to work on the mound of tubers.
“What did you do just then? With the pebbles?”
“I cast the boundaries” she spoke as if that was all he needed to hear.
“And that means?”
“Ai, I forget at times you are Nation-born, mercenary” she settled back on her heels and looked afresh at him.
“The taught you of Toth, in the village where you were born?”
“I was raised to follow Toth, yes”.
“I sense something else though, in your tone. I would guess you spent time with the Sisters?”
“Eh, yes. Now you ask, the Sisters had the raising of me and my brother for a year or so after my mother took sick. Then I started Layishan and that side of thing sort of took the hind step”.
“So your understanding is of the Nation world. You know of this world and the next that follows. You were raised in a land where death follows birth and Spirit follows death in a clear line”.
“In Chalman we see things a mite differently. Our lives are more… ‘circular’ – I use that Nation word, but it does not translate direct. For our purposes now it will serve. We acknowledge something beyond Spirit. Our name for it is ‘Sula’, which is closest to your ‘power’ I would think. Ah, I see from your eyes you have heard of Sula. From a Healer, perhaps?”
“Our healer for a term at Layishan was Chalman trained. His reputation was formidable”.
“I am not surprised. Not for nothing, the best healers on Kenmarkiu come out of the sands. But I stray from our point. Sula, power, ties us all to this world. It turns through us all, to differing degrees. It lets us do things your Nation tutors would have slandered as ‘magic’. Casting the boundaries like I just did is simply that. I set the limits to our camp. Oh, it will not be some impenetrable barrier, so hide your skeptiscm Rikart Lukam. It will simply let us know if people approach”.
“The words? You spoke… it sounded like a chant to me”.
“Counting words only, mercenary”. She raised a reassuring hand. “Worry not, I will try to refrain from corrupting you with my desert magic till we are well beyond the reach of Frenan witch hunters”.
“Why do you tell me this so freely?”
“You asked”. She smiled again over her saibu. “I am a Healer, Rikart Lukam. Part of the reasoning for my very existence is to impart knowledge. If a savage Northern blademan is all Ruad presents me with then, by the six tribes, I shall make the most of the opportunity”. She held her arms wide to the night sky for a moment then dropped, the moment of levity passed.
“Get some rest, mercenary. The boundaries are cast and are as safe as we can make them. Ne’el has first watch, then Rofan. You have third, so I suggest you sleep while you can. From here out our journeying is going to get a little more exciting. I would rather we had been further on our way, but we deal with the hand the fates have given us”. She rose to her feet gracefully, patted him on the shoulder, and took the basket of tubers to Kriss at the other side of the large fire.