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Before my statement was done, they erupted. Shouting, oaths, disbelief, anger. “Blasphemy!” “You’re not serious?” “He mocks us!” Disbelief. Interest. Intrigue. A boat to travel the River and Sea of the World After? “It can’t be done!” “It can!” “A boat for the Spirit Ways?”
It took some time to calm the assembly. I offended them, although some were more academic in their shock. A few wished to honor my request, and these few I took mental note of. A few emissaries called for my death in their games, or even immediately, and Askuwheteau had to bar the way in from the attendants outside. Guagom’s men in black paint pushed against him and I saw one of them reach for his hatchet. Askuwheteau, too, saw the move, and shouted.
This was no ordinary shout. It was a Crade technique. We can all be thankful he only used a measure of his will.
The cry raised dust from the stones. It cowed those before him, made some fall, others scream. In the silence that resounded after, a few crows cawed in the distance and Askuwheteau spun back to the council.
“Once before our guest was threatened, and now again in the very Listening Room!” he thundered. “This is not Rowatokon. This is not right.”
“And what if he is here to harm us? To steal and murder?” Guagom sat, looking pained, and wrapped her raven cloak tight around her. “You invent these invisible attackers to drive sympathy.”
“Do I?” Askuwheteau glared at her and she returned the stare, then looked away. “Do I lie? I, for one, won’t make any accusations, but I know what I felt.”
Guagom shot him a glare. “I sent no assassins.”
“And I said I made no accusations. But send on your assassins against this man. Whoever sent them.” Askuwheteau’s voice was clear that he knew, but he did not say. “And you’ll witness the meaning of battle.”
“Of that,” Guagom said. “I have a concern. What if I am right?” Others murmured along with her. “Who will stop him, if I am right? Who will even slow him, if he means to steal or kill or even conquer?”
“I will.” Askuwheteau gave me a sharp glance. “For the three days he waited, I studied techniques in the vaults, old scrolls and graven stones of Crade teachings. I can stop him, if it comes to that.”
“It won’t,” another emissary said. “He should leave. Tomorrow.”
Again, chaos overtook the council chamber. Again they fought and argued. I remained silent, knowing the damage was done, and trusted Askuwheteau even as I wondered. I watched him. Secret Crade teachings? He went to the center of the chamber and again asked for calm.
It was for naught. Kiche called for a vote.
One by one, the emissaries raised their hands for me to remain, to learn from them, to have my boat. Others shouted that the boat could not be made. Rage threatened to derail the vote. They calmed themselves and raised their hands in groups for me to leave, and the matter was decided.
“So this council sees,” the emissary in wolfskins sighed. “The stranger Raze must leave tomorrow.”
I steeled myself to disagree, but once again Askuwheteau did so for me. “He can’t. We have an agreement.” He faced me. “How long will it take for you to fulfill your third promise? To teach me how you turned my club, when we met on the beach?”
I nodded and concealed a grin. “Some time. Perhaps a month.”
“There. A month. He and I had a prior agreement. Or will this council deprive me of fulfillment of an agreement?”
Again there was a vote. This time, with much grumbling, they agreed I should stay to discharge my obligation. Guagom led the faction who voted for me to leave regardless, and her loss made her seethe. When the vote was done, she stood. Many others stood with her and left the council chamber, and the rest of us stayed there in the chilly sun.
“Don’t worry too much.” Kiche had stayed. He came to my side, backed by his followers. “These are complex matters. That I think you should leave should not sting you personally.”
“Little does.” Again, I extended my hand.
It was a gesture of peace, a sign of goodwill, to all observers. Kiche knew. He met my gaze and again his eyes flashed silvery and he made no move to grasp my wrist. We stared at each other, and in his eyes I saw something hard as steel, deep as sea. There was a loss there, a distance, inscrutable. I withdrew my hand when he nodded and turned, and his followers went out with him.
Other emissaries greeted me. They took my hand and apologized or welcomed, and said that I should see them later about the boat. Askuwheteau said I would only stay to help him learn, as I’d promised.
The council was done, and so we left. Askuwheteau and I descended the steps together. A burn set into my legs, a reminder of how little I’d rested in weeks prior. A stay in Rowatokon would do me good, regardless of the emissaries. I would find a way, with or without them.
“That Kiche,” I said. “What do you know of him?”
“He’s our youngest emissary. He has the Sight of the Forsaken, as you heard, and he has seen the Last River.”
“Indeed. Died and returned, and returned with Sight.”
I considered this for a few more steps. Below, from the base of the pyramid, music came up, drums and wooden pipes and a droning gut-stringed harp. We reached the base and I watched musicians compete for coin beside food-sellers hocking sugar sweets and fried things. The people gathered for a sort of impromptu festival, or town square, following the meeting. Emissaries met with their folk on blankets or beneath shade trees. Attendants set to purifying the steps and corners of the pyramid with smoking clay censers they held in both hands.
“This way,” Askuwheteau said. “I have secured lodging for you. You can refresh yourself and rest till tonight.”
I followed and as we went into the streets, I spoke again. “Did you truly find Crade teachings to learn a way to fight me?”
He shook his head, but said nothing. We spoke no more of it.
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