The Old Grey Wizard
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A Mortal Life: 17. Incanus Awakens
Chapter 16 Incanus Awakens
Everyone who was not directly involved with the care of the body of Incanus was kept away. The men took turns sitting beside him. They had laid him in the back of one of the wagons, his grey robe folded to pillow his head. Fires were lit; families gathered. No one was hungry.
They had searched him, looking for the reason for his sudden demise. The men had thrust the women back as they stripped away his clothing. They found nothing. Kutumi peered closely at his cold lifeless hand; he found no marks from the sword cut. He swallowed hard. Nelika had told him that the cut was eight inches long. Yet the sorcerer had healed without a trace of scar. What on earth had happened now? They replaced the coarse tunic and trousers at Kutumi's insistence.
Kutumi brought a makeshift lamp he had fashioned months earlier from part of a thick leather shoe he had salvaged from the scene of the very first battle. Others had carved out chunks of wood, or found hollow gourds. For wicks they used strands of rope, and for fuel they rendered fat from the animals they hunted for food along the way. They'd run out of oil weeks ago. The lamps stank and smoked, but they had nothing better. These lands were bare of trees, and their wood was running low. The dead needed fire to mark their way into the next world, but the living needed fires for cooking, and for safety. And for the pyre, Kutumi thought. He was ever the practical one.
Kutumi and Farased had taken the first shift. There were nine adult men left now, and they watched in pairs for three hours. Kutumi and Farased had fought over the right for the open spot on the fifth shift and had come to blows. Nelika and Suli had shouted at them, calling them children. Suli had come between them, scolding and slapping. They stopped cursing and drew sticks. Farased won. He was on his second watch now.
Then Suli had grabbed her belly and groaned, and water had trickled down from between her legs. The women were now occupied with their own type of watch. The men watch for one departing and the women watch for one arriving, Kutumi thought. He approached the wagon where the body lay.
"Farased, I'll take the watch if you want to be with her."
"She was pregnant when we met. It isn't my child," he snarled.
"But she is your woman," Kutumi said.
Farased refused to look at him.
Kutumi's turn would be coming again soon. The fifth watch would be over and he would take his place on the bench in the wagon next to Mobasu. And the boy, Nod. No one had been able to force Nod to leave the wagon. He hadn't moved since they had placed the sorcerer's body there. He just sat and stared at his face. Farased should do something. It wasn't good for the boy to stare like that at a dead face.
But Farased did nothing, and Kutumi could do nothing. How he hated this waiting. At least there was something else to think about. Every so often Nelika sent word about the mother's progress, which was slow. There was at least another reason to sit here and wait by the side of the road. If they'd had no other reason than those few words Incanus had spoken before he dropped over dead, Kutumi didn't think they could hold the others. No one—except maybe Nod--believed that the sorcerer would come back to life. Kutumi didn't believe it. But he had said three days, wait three days. After all he had done for them, it was little enough. So they waited.
Morning came. Still they waited. The sun rose halfway to noon. Kutumi finally went to find rest, but sleep eluded him. The day was going to be warm. He twisted and shifted, imagining the stench of the body by the end of this hot day. What would they do? Could he convince the others to continue this game? He drifted off.
Kutumi woke with a start to the sound of shrieking. As he rose to his feet he heard a child's high-pitched squeals and the neighing of a horse. He ran to the wagon.
Incanus was sitting up and rubbing his eyes, smiling groggily. Nod clasped his arms around the wizard's neck. A crowd gathered, everyone shouting and pointing. Kutumi gaped; then he laughed and reached out to take Incanus' hand.
"I never thought… Welcome back, friend!"
"Thank you for watching. Thank you all."
When Incanus heard that Suli was in labor, he went directly to the tent the women had stitched together with odd scraps of fabric. He took one look and ran back to the wagon, returning with his robe. He tore it for them himself. After that Nelika insisted that he be allowed in.
"His woman is a healer, and he is a sorcerer," she whispered, when the others objected. "Don't think of him as you think of other men. He's different."
But to her surprise he showed no sign that he knew anything at all about childbirth. He asked question after question, until the women were vexed and furious.
"Get him out of here!" yelled Januno.
Nelika pulled at the wizard's arm and dragged him away.
"Why were you asking all those questions?" she hissed. "You sounded like a fool who knew nothing."
"I know nothing about this. But now I must learn, and quickly."
She looked up in surprise. "Ah! You have truly seen Corli, then?"
"Of course!" His gaze narrowed. "So! You knew!"
Nelika stared at the ground. "I saw the signs. Women recognize these things."
"And you chose to say nothing!" His eyes glittered.
She looked up quickly, and then down again. "She didn't tell you, did she? It wasn't my place."
"Corli knew how hard it would be for me to leave if I knew. She kept silent out of love for me. You said nothing because of your own selfishness!"
Nelika's eyes flashed again. There was no flirtatiousness in them. "What would you have had me do, Incanus? Endanger two dozen for one woman with child who still has months yet until she's due? That's nonsense."
"You could have told me and let me decide."
"I couldn't risk it."
"Then I can only conclude that all women are liars!"
He turned and left. As he walked away it hit him how exceptionally fatigued he felt. His right arm ached and his face throbbed. He found a quiet place away from the others. As he lay wrapped in a blanket his one thought, over and over, was Corli is with child--my child. Centuries ago he had discovered that most ways of the body were under the sway of his will. He had always taken care not to leave anyone with the burden of raising a child alone after he was long gone. But sometime this spring he had abandoned his desire to control such fates. He couldn't really remember when. He smiled as he realized what it meant. His soul and body had vowed to stay, even before his mind put the thought into words. He slept for the rest of the day.
When he woke it was sunset. The aching in his arm and jaw faded. Kutumi appeared and extended the invitation again to join him and Nelika at their fire for the night.
"You can tell us about your spirit flying from here and what you found at home."
Incanus looked alarmed at the idea. It was the last thing he wanted to do tonight. He would much rather be alone, and he'd been so harsh with Nelika, he was ashamed to face her. He forced a smile.
"Thank you, Kutumi, but first ask Nelika if I'm still welcome."
Kutumi snorted. "I don't need to ask her. She's my wife! She does what I say."
"Yes... Well then, for me. Ask her for me. Send a message if I am to stay away."
No message came. Incanus found Kutumi and Nelika's fire and joined them for supper. Nelika was silent and hardly looked up. Kutumi didn't seem to notice. He peppered the wizard with questions.
"But how did you go all that way? Can you fly? Does your spirit have wings?"
"Kutumi, it isn't something I can explain. I don't know myself. I wanted to return to her, and there I was."
"It is strange, so much of it is strange. Tell me again about this bed-jar…"
"Yes, bad-jar, the fearless one that would not let go. What kind of creature is it? I've never heard of it."
Incanus found that describing the ways of the northern badger was a safer topic than Maiar flight. The two men were soon exchanging opinions on the comparative viciousness of the great bear verses the lion of the southern plains. Kutumi had to tell the story of his first lion, and the wizard could not resist the chance to boast a bit about the wolves that had surrounded him last winter. Nelika sat off to one side and sulked. At last even Kutumi couldn't stand the tension.
"What? What is the matter, woman?"
She looked up and glared at the wizard. "Ask him."
Incanus flushed. He was behaving like a fool. He had gone from being fully Maia to fully, stupidly mortal in less than twenty-four hours. His head filled with the sound of his own ridiculous, angry voice. All women are liars. You said nothing because of you own selfishness. Then other words rang: words full of hate, words meant to flay, to kill if they could. My one regret is that I couldn't carry your whip with me. I would have enjoyed hearing you scream as I used it on you. Teeth and claws are too quick for you. A mortal hadn't spoken those words; a Maia had.
He looked down in confusion. What in Arda was happening to him? Was all this unleashed emotion the result of getting too close to these mortals? Curumo's warning echoed in his head. But he hadn't indulged his soft-heartedness. To the contrary, he had been soft-headed and hard-hearted. Well, there was nothing he could do to reverse the hate he had spit out at Jarek. He'd have to sort all that out later, alone. But he could do something about Nelika. He turned toward her.
"Nelika, I am truly sorry. I…"
Kutumi interrupted. This was simply too much. "Wait! Stop! What are you saying? Don't apologize, Incanus, whatever the reason. To a woman! You must never do that, never! It's insulting…"
"Stay out of this, Kutumi," Incanus said, his voice low but firm. "It is not your concern." Kutumi's jaw dropped in shock. He fell silent. The wizard looked at the woman and went on. "Nelika, you had to do exactly what you did. Forgive me."
Kutumi stared as his wife gazed into the wizard's eyes and ignored her husband. He hadn't seen a look like that on her face before.
"No, Incanus. I am the one who should apologize. You had every right to know. I should have told you."
They looked at one another. He reached out his hand. She placed hers in his. Kutumi gaped in horror: a man shaking hands with a woman! Disgusting.
"It is forgotten," Incanus said.
"Forgotten," she sighed.
Kutumi scowled. "Well, I don't know what that…that nonsense was all about, but I certainly hope it's over. Now we can discuss more important things. Incanus, I have been talking to my woman and…"
At that moment someone appeared at the edge of the firelight.
"Nelika, Januno wants you. The time is now. She says come at once."
Nelika shrugged, glared a bit at Kutumi, and left. The wizard's head was bowed as he mused on his own thoughts. He showed no sign that he'd heard the introduction of a new topic. Kutumi fretted for a while, wondering whether to explain. He decided against it. Incanus wasn't paying attention. The sorcerer looked tired, and who wouldn't be after all that flying. It would have to wait, and Nelika would have to tell him.
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