May 21, 2018


The Aser Stories 53: In a Spirit of Healing


Part of a shaman's work is to tell how things are with the world of the Unseen. Spooky? Maybe. But sometimes being the Voice of a ghost is pure job satisfaction.

The sun was high and hot when our little company found an ideal location: a little village cemetery set on a hill above a full, slow stream. In the center of the cemetery there was a tall monument commemorating a battle that occurred some seventy years ago, with names carved in the polished granite, and a wide stone-paved circle around it. We dropped our packs on the edge of the stone circle, and started to make camp among the headstones nearby.

Both Dan Ur-Jennan and I are shamans of the Ur-clans, and able to speak with the shades of the dead who linger. I put my staff into the ground and waited only a few moments before I was approached by a ghost. He seemed to radiate a chilly sense of authority, as though he was the boss ghost of the place. Well, small towns are often like that, somebody always wants to run the place. Why not after death as well?

"What seek ye, Wanderers?" said the spirit, who was dressed in a jacket, waistcoat, and frilly shirt, with pants tucked into riding boots and a pair of gloves in one hand. "Have ye come to disturb the precious sleep of the dead?"

"Lighten up," I said to him. "I know more dead people than you do, and the last thing they're interested in is sleep. We're looking for shelter under the magic of the graveyard, so that a wicked magician won't find us. Will you help or do we move to a different part of the burial ground?"

"Stay," he said, "I haven't talked to a living being in about twenty years. But I insist on orderliness. No spirit orgies or mob scenes, mind you -- I don't want any blasted psychics showing up and trying to make us into some bourgeoisie freak show."

"Agreed," I said. "And your name is ... ?"

"Niles Cooper, and yours?"

"Ase Ur-Jennan."

The ghost bowed deeply. "I have heard of the clans of Ur, but have never before been graced with a visit."

We began taking turns at the creek, one at a time, to wash the stink of days of travel off ourselves. Danner had gone first, and came back wrapped in a blanket. She laid her scrubbed clothing out on the grass of the graves to dry, and tossed the cake of hard soap to Narsai, who handed it to his brother and slapped him soundly. "Scrub with mud first, Odiferous Sibling, and then make use of the soap."

"Yes, Brother," said Guillaume meekly.

"You're too hard on him," Danner said to Narsai.

"He is a baboon," said Narsai, and pulled an apple from his pack and began to eat it.

Cloudraft the Wizard stopped gazing at Danner's casually draped form and looked toward the little village. "Oh, dear, it looks like we're about to get visitors. I was hoping for a quick nap before we were noticed."

"Aser, how are we for herbals?" asked Danner, rising to her feet and tying the blanket above her one shoulder a little more securely. She wrapped her belt with its dagger around her waist to keep the blanket from gaping.

"Not bad, considering how light we're traveling. When we passed through the clan lands everyone was cramming our packs with pouches of processed medicinals." A lot of these little mountain villages don't have a healer or shaman in residence, and when one passes by, the residents are likely to crowd him or her for help.

Three men were approaching, one with his hand on a sword at his waist. The ghost behind me said proudly, "That's my great-grandson's great-grandson, Hatch, and although the family are no longer coopers by trade, they are good folk and I am glad to call them kin."

"Hail, Hatch!" I called to the man with the sword, which was rusted in spots on the hilt, and the leather that wrapped that handle was frayed in places.

"How do you know my name?" the bearded man asked in consternation.

"Your great-grandfather's great-grandfather's ghost here told me," I said. "Don't be afraid. We," I gestured toward Danner, "are shamans of Ur. We can hear the voices of spirits, and have medicines to cure some ills. We will help you as we can."

Wide-eyed, one of the men who had accompanied Hatch Cooper turned and headed back to tell the rest of the village.

"Hail," said Hatch feebly, after introductions. "Pardon, shaman, but you have the ugliest dogs I've ever seen. What breed are they, and can you keep them away from the dogs in our village?"

"They're not dogs, they're baboons," I said. "Try not to insult them, as they are very learned and will probably be writing a memoir of their visit here."

Guillaume had just returned from the creek. Narsai gave him a sniff and then pretended his younger brother was invisible, and turned his back. Guillaume looked at the cake of soap in his front paw, and then winged it, overhand, to hit his older brother on the back of the head with it. Narsai exploded into chase and the two baboons galloped full speed back down the hill to tumble, tussling, into the water of the creek.

"I once saw a two-headed gerbil at the Desmesne Faire," said Hatch, "but never nothing like them."

The young man at his side stepped forward. "Can I talk to me dad?" asked the fellow, his eyes suddenly filling with tears.

"I can interpret for you if he is still here," I said and we walked to his father's grave.

Death is such a gulf, such a giant rift in our lives. Those of us who are left in the physical world can feel as though we've failed in keeping our loved ones with us; very often we feel left behind or abandoned when our friends and antecedents die. Sometimes people think of something they wished they'd said when their friend or relative was alive, or wonder what the honored dead would make of our actions today. From the point of view of the living, the grave is silent, the dead gone beyond reach of our senses.

That's why it's so important to speak and love and touch people while they're still alive, to take time to find out how they're doing, tell them that you're glad you know them. Make cookies for someone. Pick a little bouquet for your friend. Say "Good morning" to people you meet. Acknowledge the Life in them. You never know when it will be your last chance.

The headstone was neatly carved, and carried the name Johann Finch. As I put my staff in the earth, his son said, "Can you tell him that we miss him still?"

"You can tell him that yourself. He is here, and says 'Hello, Max, it's good to see you.'"

"He recognized me, after all these years! I was just a little boy when he died," said Max Finch. "How do I talk to him? Do I just talk to you? Can you see him? How's he look?"

"He looks like a man glad to see his son. Here, Max, sit down, close your eyes, and pretend that your father is sitting there back to back with you. He says 'What's new with you, Son?'"

"Dad, I finished my apprenticeship with the blacksmith, and now I can be paid for the wheel rims and tool-heads I make -- I want to buy a couple goats for my sisters next spring so they can make cheese and then they won't have to hire out as servants, and they'll each have a dowry and be able to get decent husbands and the girls and I are thinking we'll try to buy the field in back of the house and with them and their husbands we ought to be able to do pretty well ... " he chattered on and on, with his father's ghost interjecting words of encouragement now and then.

There were more people coming from the village. "Max," I said, "soon I'll have to help translate for the others."

Max looked stricken. "I just wish I could talk to him more."

"You can," I told him. "You can talk to him any time. You don't need a shaman for that."

"But I won't be able to hear him talk back."

"You're not hearing him now. I'm just telling you what he says. Right now he's saying that he loves you very much and that he's so proud of how well you've done. He says, 'Be of a good and honest heart, and bear your burdens peacefully.'"

"I'll try, Dad," said Max, his eyes brimming again.

I put my hand on Max's shoulder. "When you visit your father here and talk to him, now you know he'll be listening, and your heart will tell you what he'd likely say back to you."

Max thoughtfully furrowed his brows. "I bet right now he's wondering where Mum is."

"You're exactly right, Max," I answered him, and turned to await the older woman who had hoisted the hems of her skirts and was beginning to run toward us, laughing and crying at the same time.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-06-09

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In the same series:

The Accursed
The Aser Stories: Sidelong
The Aser Stories 80: Cabin Fever
The Aser Stories 79: Just Don't Say It Before Spring
The Aser Stories 78: Judgment Call
The Aser Stories 77: "Are We There Yet?"
The Aser Stories 76: A Bone to Pick
The Aser Stories 75: Coalition Forces
The Aser Stories 74: Flying Monkeys
The Aser Stories 73: Elspeth, Ad Nauseam
The Aser Stories 072: Starve a Cold
The Aser Stories 071: House Call
The Aser Stories 70: Dinner Dates
The Aser Stories 69: Fire in the Hole
The Aser Stories 68: The Silk Fable
The Aser Stories 67: The Simple Life
The Aser Stories 66: For What You're Worth
The Aser Stories 65: Taking a Shot
The Aser Stories 64: Second Chances
The Aser Stories 63: The Second Step
The Aser Stories 63: Second Thoughts
The Aser Stories 60: Fish Story
The Aser Stories 59: Ace in the Hole
The Aser Stories 58: Knowledge is Power
The Aser Stories 57: Animal Tracks
The Aser Stories 56: Oz Can Keep Them All
The Aser Stories 55: Small Comfort
The Aser Stories 54: Letting Go
The Aser Stories 53: In a Spirit of Healing
The Aser Stories 52: Stinkin' Kids
The Aser Stories 51: No Words For It
The Aser Stories 50: The Friend in Need
The Aser Stories 49: Run for Cover
The Aser Stories 48: On the Fly
The Aser Stories 47: Just Thievery
The Aser Stories 46: Take My Shaman ... Please
The Aser Stories 45: Hot Stuff
The Aser Stories 44: Courtesy Call
The Aser Stories 43: Adding Insult to Injury
The Aser Stories 42: Natural Selection
The Aser Stories 41: Funny Business
The Aser Stories 40: Happy Endings
The Aser Stories 39: Working Dogs
The Aser Stories 38: Taking Sides
The Aser Stories 37: Dumb Animals
The Aser Stories 36: Harsh Words
The Aser Stories 35: Endangered Species
The Aser Stories 34: Common Language
The Aser Stories 33: Legal Torture
The Aser Stories 32: Whose Fault Is It?
The Aser Stories 31: Money Talks
The Aser Stories 30: The Perils of Sympathy
The Aser Stories 29: Raccoons
The Aser Stories 28: The Ghost of Garfer Miller
The Aser Stories 27: Dynamite
The Aser Stories 26: Junk Mail
The Aser Stories 25: Rose-Covered Cottages
The Aser Stories 24: Crime and Punishment
The Aser Stories 23: Image Is Everything
The Aser Stories 22: Is As Does
The Aser Stories 21: Gourmet Dining
The Aser Stories 20: Families and How They Are
The Aser Stories 19: The Difference Between Men and Women
The Aser Stories 18: On a Silver Platter
The Aser Stories 17: Point of View
The Aser Stories 16: Easy Street
The Aser Stories 15: Moguls
The Aser Stories 14: A Mile Toward Change
The Aser Stories 13: The Price of Freedom
The Aser Stories 12: A Question of Nudity
The Aser Stories 11: Rabbit From a Hat
The Aser Stories 10: Awards
The Aser Stories 09: On A Roll
The Aser Stories 08: Raising Children
The Aser Stories 07: Crosspasses Market
The Aser Stories 06: Judge, Jury, Shaman
The Aser Stories 05:Habit and Stubbornness
The Aser Stories 04: The Wrong Question
The Aser Stories 03: The Labor of Love
The Aser Stories 02: Soup du Jour
The Aser Stories 01: Popping the Big Question
The Aser Stories 40a: Customary Behavior
The Aser Stories 36a: Madly In Love
The Aser Stories 03a: Descent to the Underworld

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