Castle Roland

The Translator

by David McLeod


Chapter 4

Published: 26 Jan 15

The Translator

by David McLeod

Facing the Shaman

"What are you doing?" Argon asked.

"Writing a note to let Johnny know it was I who was here and that I'll repay him for the food we're going to eat," Phillip replied.

"He is a scholar, like you?" Argon wondered.

Phillip laughed. "No," he said. "Johnny's anything but a scholar. He works with his hands and has little use for anything more modern than what his great-great grandfather had." Except for his electric kiln, Phillip thought briefly, and the other stuff in his shop.

"If he is not a scholar, how can he read your note?" Argon asked.

"Of course he can read; everyone can read–" Phillip began.

"You can't read, can you?" Phillip continued.

"No," Argon replied. "Only Klerikos and scholars can read. And nobles, of course."

Thirty minutes later, Phillip had determined the meaning of "Klerikos" (clerics, he thought–priests, maybe) and "nobles," although he was still unclear about just what clerics worshiped–if anything. Wherever Argon is from, it's weird, he thought.

Phillip's Journal

Argon was asleep. The trauma of being taken from his world, the strangeness of a new world, the knowledge that he was a prisoner, the escape–the boy was exhausted, and fell asleep quickly. Phillip pumped a gasoline lamp to pressure and lit it. With the lamp's hiss and Argon's soft breathing in the background, Phillip wrote in his journal.

It is now two days after the Hispanglo's Christmas holiday. The day is important because the holiday played so great a role in what has happened.

Phillip wrote of being called by his professor, of calling the Provost of the college, and of being asked to report to the State Police to translate for them. He described his meeting with Argon, learning that the boy was a brother in the Builders Lodge, and then learning that the boy was from another world. Phillip wrote in Athabascan, inserting Spanish, English, and other languages when the Athabascan tongue lacked the words. When he described the sexual encounters with Argon, he used all his skills as a linguist to encrypt that passage. They never broke the Athabascan language when the Code Talkers used it during the Great War, Phillip said. Athabascan, Hopituh Shi-nu-mu, and A'shiwi words; Athabascan and roman characters; no one will ever be able to read this! He stopped writing and thought for a moment. At least, I hope not.

I did not like lying to Trooper MacComb; if he were not a good man, Argon might be in a county lockup–with drunken Indians (!)–or worse. He could be in a mental hospital.

Argon's world must be very different from ours; yet, some things are the same. He didn't know anything about plastic. He seemed fascinated to see light through the plastic water bottle, and he didn't know to open a packet of mustard. He did learn quickly, though. He doesn't like bologna, but he's not a vegetarian: he ate chicken, and seemed to know what it was. (He also ate pork, but didn't know it was different from chicken. Perhaps there are no pigs on his world.) He understood what a shower and a toilet were, and used the toothbrush with familiarity. He didn't seem to know toothpaste–he did like it, though. Oh, and he can tie his shoes. I must start a list of things–what he knows, what he doesn't know. It may help me learn more about his world.

Phillip stopped writing, again. He looked at Argon. The circle of light from the lamp barely lit the boy's features.

I have never felt so good after sex. I have never felt as good as I feel with Argon. Is it the sex? Is it because he's so helpless? Is it because he seems to trust me so much? I must never betray that trust.

I do not know what we will do tomorrow. Johnny Two-Horses will not return home for two more weeks. At least, that's what my uncle said when he and Johnny left. But we cannot stay here after tonight. We do not have enough food, and someone is sure to suggest they look for me here.

Phillip sat and thought. His body began to demand sleep; he stifled a yawn and shook his head to clear webs that Spider wove in his mind.

I told Argon I knew of a place of power–the kiva. I cannot go into even the kiva of my society without reason. Anyway, we should go to one of the great kivas, perhaps at Aztec or Mesa Verde. Only one person can grant us access, and I am still afraid of him.

Seven years earlier, a twelve-year-old Phillip bit hard on the rawhide between his teeth. The Shaman's knife flashed in the firelight and pain flashed through the boy's body. Tears sprang from his eyes to join those caused by the acrid smoke that filled the kiva. Tears are unmanly, Phillip thought. But they are also involuntary. The smoke is deliberate. It provides an excuse for the tears. We save face.

The coals flared briefly when the Shaman dropped the bloody prepuce onto them. Phillip's uncle took the boy's hand and led him away. Another boy was brought forward. By the west door of the kiva, a gas lantern burned on a table. Phillip and his uncle stopped. An icy spray numbed Phillip's penis. The medic examined it. Another spray was followed by a sterile dressing. "The blood," Phillip mumbled, trying to wipe his legs. "I've got to clean–"

"No," the medic whispered. "You must wear the blood for the rest of the ceremony. Be proud of it; you are no longer a boy." Phillip's uncle led him to the group of boys who had preceded him, and then returned to his place. One by one, the other boys of his cohort underwent circumcision and medical treatment.

Phillip had a gift for languages, and already spoke Athabascan, Spanish, and English. He was able to understand the Hopituh Shi-nu-mu and A'shiwi boys who attended the consolidated school, although by custom, he would not associate with them until they were adults. He understood more of what the Shaman said than most of his cohort did. He means what he says, Phillip thought. He really believes he has done magic tonight.

"It was a dragon," Phillip said. After five days in the desert, alone, without food or water, he had clearly seen the creature that was to become his totem, his spirit guide. A sinuous being with two leathery wings and two powerful, clawed legs. It hadn't breathed fire, but Phillip knew that it could. He also knew that it was huge–much larger than it appeared. He had claimed that totem upon his return from the vision quest, but the Shaman would not allow it.

Phillip looked around for support. His uncle was not present, and the Shaman ruled the kiva.

"An eagle, with a snake in its mouth; that was what you saw," the Shaman insisted. "It is a powerful totem, full of strength and wisdom."

Phillip had bowed his head, and agreed.

Now, with Argon hidden among the sagebrush outside the Shaman's hut, Phillip faced the Shaman again, but this time with confidence that the 12-year-old lacked. "Argon is a brother, a lodge brother, although his lodge is on another world, and some of his customs differ. He requires our help, and our oaths require that we offer that help. We must bring him into the kiva. We must open a door to his world so that he can return. Only then can our honor and our oaths be satisfied."

The Shaman had listened politely while Phillip described being called to the state police post and what he had found. The man's face remained immobile when Phillip told him that Argon was from another world, yet was a lodge brother. He nodded briefly when Phillip told him that the people on Argon's world worked real magic. Only when Phillip told the Shaman that Argon must be taken into the kiva so that a door to his world could be opened did the Shaman show any emotion. Phillip thought he saw a bright joy cross the old man's face, but it was gone before he could be sure.

When Phillip stopped talking, the Shaman looked deep into the boy's eyes. Phillip did not flinch. The Shaman sighed. "It was a dragon, you know. It was a dragon, and not an eagle with a snake in its mouth."

Phillip was unable to squelch his involuntary, "Huh?"

"Phillip, soon to become Spartus, you have been initiated into two Lodges. You know, therefore, that not all secrets are immediately revealed. You know that one must build a foundation for learning, and that one learns more as one advances." Without waiting for the boy to respond, the Shaman continued. "When you saw the dragon that was to be your spirit guide, you were a child. You were too young to learn the necessary secrets. You lacked the foundation. It was necessary for you to accept the Quetzalcoatl image–the feathered serpent the Hispanglo Catholic missionaries created to seduce our Toltec brothers.

"You would have learned what you needed to know. You would have climbed from rung to rung until you stood at the top of the ladder and saw the dragon who is your spirit guide. When? Perhaps ten years, perhaps twenty."

Phillip stood silently. He knew the Shaman was not finished.

"You are right. This boy-from-another-world brings an obligation to us. Years ago, our brothers who worked the high steel of the Hispanglo's skyscraping buildings, and those who fought in their wars, came back to us, bringing the Builders Lodge Mysteries. Some of the elders tried to reject these new mysteries. Others would have kept them apart from the mysteries of our people. Those who prevailed in combining these mysteries under the roof of the kiva, while keeping two individual and separate paths to knowledge, had the greater wisdom. They knew this day would come.

"I will contact the Council; the Grand Lodge will meet."

The Grand Lodge. That's when the Kiva and the Builders Lodge meet together. It's only done once a year, or when there's a real emergency. Like when the Hispanglos tried to cut off the water of the Animus River.

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