Hoelun jerked out a hand and caught the shaman by his thin wrist. Her strength
"He has wrenched his gut, shaman. I have seen it many times before. Even on
ponies and goats have I seen it, and they always live."
Kokchu undid her shaking clasp with his other hand. It pleased him to see fear
in her eyes. With fear, he could own her, body and soul. If she had been a young
Naiman mother, he might have sought sexual favors in return for healing her son,
but in this new camp, he needed to impress the great khan. He kept his face
still as he replied, "You see the darkness of the lump? It is a growth that
cannot be cut out. Perhaps if it were on the skin, I would burn it off, but it
will have run claws into his stomach and lungs. It eats him mindlessly and it
will not be satisfied until he is dead."
"You are wrong," Hoelun snapped, but there were tears in her eyes.
Kokchu lowered his gaze so that she would not see his triumph glitter there. "I
wish I was, old mother. I have seen these things before and they have nothing
but appetite. It will continue to savage him until they perish together." To
make his point, he reached down and squeezed the swelling.
Temuge jerked and came awake with a sharp breath. "Who are you?" Temuge said to
Kokchu, gasping. He struggled to sit up, but the pain made him cry out and he
fell back onto the narrow bed. His hands tugged at a blanket to cover his
nakedness, and his cheeks flushed hotly under Kokchu's scrutiny.
"He is a shaman, Temuge. He is going to make you well," Hoelun said. Temuge
broke into fresh sweat and she dabbed the cloth to his skin as he settled back.
After a time, his breathing slowed and he drifted into exhausted sleep once
more. Hoelun lost a little of her tension, if not the terror Kokchu had brought
into her home.
"If it is hopeless, shaman, why are you still here?" she said. "There are other
men and women who need your healing skill." She could not keep the bitterness
from her voice and did not guess that Kokchu rejoiced in it.
"I have fought what eats him twice before in my life. It is a dark rite and
dangerous for the man who practices it as well as for your son. I tell you this
so you do not despair, but it would be foolish to hope. Consider him to have
died, and if I win him back, you will know joy."
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