A great sickness ravaged a group of tribals in the middle of an angry winter. Each day that the men rose to hunt game, they returned later, most often in fewer numbers. The women would leave to gather what few nuts and berries still grew in the freezing temperatures. At least one or two would not return, their bounties lost with them. The few that managed to survive both parties, would end up confined to a pair of huts, the fires in their centers stoked by the tribe’s Shaman.
He wore a garb of animal furs, white tattoos across his face and body, and carried a walking stick to aide his hobbled gait. Each morning and night he would stand beside the beds of the ill and dying, chanting his healing magics with mantras from the back of his throat. His two apprentices would remain beside him, eyes cast downward in prayer as the guttural sounds billowed robustly over distant screams from the wind. Even so, his power was not great enough, and none of his sparse humors or poultices seemed to help.
He was forced to make a trek in search of aid, leave his apprentices to observe the rituals. Through the driving winds and snow, he planted each step with unshakable faith, determination. First, to the North, to seek the spirit of the mountain and plead with it for guidance and mercy. The mountain was high, had taken the lives of many men and women in his lifetime alone. Like his people, he knew it had a wrath and beauty that entwined in one another, was as unshakable as his own determination to find a cure.
He stood at the foot of the mountain, prayed in silence for the Great Mountain Spirit to hear him. It did not reply. Such was the nature of it that many times the mountain was spiteful toward man. The Shaman could do little more than turn away after a day’s prayers, ready to weep at the losses his people suffered. He collected what few herbs and roots were to be found at the Mountain’s feet, grateful for what little the blessing the spirit had bestowed in the lateness of the season.
He turned next for the East, trekked through the forests filled with deer, rabbits, and the occasional wolf. In the distance, each of their heads rose at him in time. The deer’s eyes were frightful. The rabbit’s spine was cowardly. The wolf licked its lips with a sniff of the air. Still not one of them found him of interest, not even enough to run from. So rotten were the stenches of sickness and death on him that even the wolf turned its eyes away in respect. The Shaman was grateful that the forest had let him pass unhindered, unharmed. His people needed him, would not survive without their Shaman’s eventual return.
The Shaman then reached the hills, where even in the gray of winter the highest peaks graced the sky with a serene bliss. Upon the highest hill, he planted his staff and knelt to pray once more. This time, he pled with the sky to repeal its harsh proclamation of winter to lessen the people’s suffering, prevent the rest of the hunters and gatherers from contracting the sickness in the cold. Again there was no reply– and this time neither herbs nor roots. Still, he thanked the sky for its past blessings, and left.
He trekked back Westward, through the forests. The animals were nowhere to be found. He found no solace in the fact, but still thanked forest for allowing him to pass unharmed once more. Beyond it, he continued West, for a river that ran even in the harshness of the winter. He followed its winding pathways to a clearing where stones were laid out for tribal meetings. In their center, her sat to face the river, and prayed that the Great River Spirit once more nourish his people with life-giving water. In it, he asked for there to be something which might heal the sick, dying. He drank of the river only to sense that his prayers had once more gone unanswered.
He wept at the river’s edge.
All of the Great Spirits had abandoned them, unwilling to aid them through the harshest winter they cast upon the tribe. Though the Shaman’s people revered him as a great healer, and master of the white-magics, he knew it to be merely the concoctions created from the blessings of these great spirits. His only magic was that which allowed him to keep the secret confined to himself and his apprentices.
When he rose from the river’s edge, he trekked back eastward only to stop where his three sets of tracks led from the mountain, the forest and hills, and the running river. There was but one pathway left to him; the South, past his own people and toward those with whom they had so often warred. Were he not in such dire need, he might have never considered it. After all, they were usually hostile, and with good reason. Were he to fall at seeking respite, with him might go any hope his tribe had. He could not bear to think of the ills that would be suffered without him. But neither could he bare to watch his people die knowing he had not done all he could.
He walked South, skirted the tribe’s edge so that they might not have the moment of false-hopes his supposed return would bring. His path continued away from his village toward his rivals’. At its edge were no guards. Even in the season it was unusual. The Shaman’s tribe had no guards posted either, but only as a result of the sickness that ravaged it. He continued into the village’s interior and found their people, like his, scattered in states of sickness. The ill, dying, and dead told a similar story to that of the Shaman’s village. The sickness was here too.
He entered the hut of the black-tattooed tribal Shaman that had, for so long, been his rival. Like himself, the other man had healed the wounds of more than a few of the injured in their fighting. He was as competent as the white-tattooed Shaman himself.
He found the black-tattooed Shaman tending to his people as he had, waited beside the fire for the guttural chants and mantras to end. Then, with a swivel, the black-tattooed Shaman met the other’s eyes over the dance of a fire between them.
“It is here as well,” the first Shaman said. The second gave a nod. The first spoke again, “I have just been to ask the Great Spirits for aid. The Mountain, Sky, and River do not reply.”
The second Shaman responded, “I too have spoken with them, been refused replies as you.”
“They are angry then,” the first Shaman surmised. Again the second nodded.
Then, with a small gesture, the second Shaman drew the first to his side, then lowered his head to pray. Unsure of his intentions, the first also prayed– if only to show his own, peaceful intentions. The dual guttural sounds synchronized in harmony over the pain of the afflicted. For many hours they chanted their prayers and mantras, neither Shaman certain of why the other kept their peaceful bent.
It was late in the evening, after the sun had sunk and the stars rose, that the first man rose from his death-bed. The black-tattooed Shaman’s-apprentices made sounds of surprise, shock, leapt back with a start. The first Shaman opened his eyes, though he would not stop his chants, to see something miraculous: The man lived. He had been near death, drawing his last breaths when the white-tattooed Shaman entered the hut. It was miraculous the man had lived this long. That he now stood beside the bed to thank the Shamans and weep, was unbelievable. Still the Shamans prayed, chanted, heads bowed and eyes once more closed.
In time, each of the afflicted once more re-took their feet, no longer ill and now reinvigorated. When the Black-tattooed Shaman’s village was cured, he followed the other back to his village. As before, they took a place in the hut where the worst of the sick and dying were held. It was not long after, that they too, were all healed. Both men thanked one another after the last of the sick once more returned to their families. The white-tattooed Shaman then asked of the second what he believed had changed the Spirits’ minds.
The black-tattooed Shaman put a hand to his shoulder, his eyes and voice level, “The Great Spirits were angry… with us. For all the pain that our peoples have caused one another.”
The white-tattooed Shaman understood, “And it was our penance to seek brotherhood in one another if we wished to heal our sick and dying.”
The second Shaman gave a nod, “We are stronger together, the Spirits know–” he put a closed fist over his heart. “Brother.”
The first Shaman bowed his head, clenched a fist over his heart in turn. The Great Spirits did not wish to spite either tribe, but rather bring them together the only way they could: through their medicine men. In healing the sick, they too healed the wounds that had separated brother from brother, sister from sister, family and friend alike. The wound thus healed, a new era of peace and cooperation could begin.