The morning we faced the enemy, the sky was red with a maddening sun and the earth was stilled. We saw them line up in rows across the great plain, and they were as plentiful as ants upon the ground. Their infantry marched in rows with their shields before them, their archers behind them. Their catapulters threw balls of flame at us, their cavalry awaited ours. We fought bravely, but we fought without discipline, without method. We were scattered and routed, and they came after us and mowed us down on the field until the land was as red as the sky had been. We retreated and then we rode for our lives, leaving the slaves and everything we could not carry. We rode until we were far from that land and certain they could not follow. We had lost many of our number, many were wounded, our Chief lay as if asleep on a litter, and we decided to turn back for home. The wound on my arm festered. I fell into a fever, and when I came to I did not know my arm was gone, for I still felt that it was there.
The Shamanka went ahead of the people, she had seen us returning in her mirror, she knew all that had happened. She took me to her house, she took me, because I was no use to the warriors now, and when she saw how low I had sunk, she put me to work tending the horses, thinking the same cure would work on me as did before. But it was not my lost arm I mourned for, nor my lost place in the world, but those we had done wrong to. And when I closed my eyes to sleep, everything I had seen, but not set store by, came back to haunt me.
‘Help me, Eirene, help me,’ I cried, though I did not tell her we had left children motherless, left the wounded at the mercy of the elements, shattered the skulls of men and babies, sent free people to market to be sold as slaves, and looted everything we could get our hands on.
‘I can’t help you,’ she said, ‘what has been done cannot be undone.’
I did not know what to do with myself for I was in a place of torment. When I walked the shores of the lake, I thought, a quick and merciful death, a death by drowning – all I need do is step into the cold, cold water. Sometimes I thought to stampede the horses and put myself in their way, and sometimes I thought to throw myself down into a gorge. But her thoughts had poisoned me, and I did not know what lay beyond, but knew that for me there would be no peace and no glory.
The others did not think like me, they talked of battles into the night, and they talked as if everything we had done had been good, was as it should be. The Chief recovered from his wounds and soon there was talk he would raise another army to avenge his losses on the battlefield. He would go back there, he said, he knew how they fought now, and he knew how to meet them accordingly. There were many on his side that winter, though some who had survived, and some who had lost family were not for him. He could not compel anyone to fight, but many joined of their own free will and were eager.
The Shamanka looked in her mirror and said, ‘An evil time will fall upon us.’
That summer there was drought and the cattle and horses fell ill. The fever spread to the people and many died, suffering. The Shamanka cured some but had no cure for others. She did not know where the source of the evil lie.
One morning she packed a bundle and said, ‘Satana, tell the people I have gone up into the mountains where I will fast until I have a vision.’ She turned her back to me, and I watched her walk away.