While I try to figure out how to get the word out about the preorder of THE SHAMAN’S CURSE, here’s another deleted scene.
Arcas squared his shoulders and pushed the hide door covering aside to step down into the ceremonial hut. The inside was lit by an abundance of oil lamps. It was remarkably like any other Dardani hut, with the sod dug out and stacked around the edges to make the walls only much, much larger, built to hold the whole clan, not just a single family. Benches lined three sides in ranks. On the fourth side there were seats for the seven Lion Clan chiefs. An impressive life-sized carving of a lion’s head hung on the wall behind the chiefs’ seats. Arcas couldn’t stop staring at it. The carving looked so life-like; he could almost feel the eyes watching him.
Uncle Danar went to stand with the other chiefs at that side of the room. Arcas found a seat on one of the front benches, next to Pidar and some of the other boys.
He fidgeted nervously in his seat and tugged at his tunic, unable to sit still.
“Are you sitting on an ant hill?” Pidar whispered.
“No.” Arcas forced himself not to squirm. He tried to listen to the clan business that was being discussed before the initiations, but he couldn’t understand most of it. He still had a lot to learn about the way the Dardani did things and lived out here in the wilderness. He started to wonder how much the Clan Mark would hurt.
Arcas almost missed the signal that the discussion of clan business had ended and the council was now moving on to the initiations. Several men stood up and walked to the center of the hut, bringing their sons or daughters with them. Arcas took a deep breath and stepped out to join them.
Uncle Danar laid a hand on Arcas’s shoulder and guided him forward to be formally introduced to the clan. Arcas flushed at the clan’s shout of acceptance. He gladly stepped back again as the next initiate, a girl, was pushed forward by her father.
When all had been presented and accepted, the lamps were extinguished, leaving the interior of the hut in almost total darkness. The only light was at the far end, where the chiefs had been sitting. Complete silence fell, more startling in contrast to the cheers only a moment ago. Arcas only knew the rest of the clan was still there because he could hear them breathing and an occasional shuffle. A soft drumbeat started from somewhere in the darkness, like a heartbeat.
Concentrating on the darkness around him, it took a moment for Arcas to realize that his uncle was gone. Uncle Danar had been right beside him just a moment ago. Now it was just the initiates. The youngsters stood clustered together in the center of the hut, taking comfort from each other’s nearness.One of the girls slipped her hand into Arcas’s.
Uncle Danar reappeared at his side out of the darkness. At least, the voice was Uncle Danar’s. He pressed a large clay cup into Arcas’s hands. “Drink it all. But not too fast.”
It smelled fruity, mostly like apples. Arcas took a mouthful and coughed. Not apple juice. The drink had a pungent taste and it burned his throat.
“Slowly,” Uncle Danar said. It sounded like he was smiling.
When Arcas had emptied the cup, he felt very warm and the light of the remaining lamp seemed blurry.
One by one, the youngsters were led up to the far end of the hut, toward that single lamp. When it was his turn, Arcas saw that all but one of the chief’s seats had been removed. The carved lion’s head rested on that last seat. As he approached, he got his first close-up look at the Clan Totem. It had been realistically carved from some type of tawny wood. The mane was made of grasses, dyed darker and carefully woven into the wood. And the teeth were carved from pieces of bone. It looked exactly like the lion Pidar had pointed out to him. But the eyes almost made him stop short. The eyes were looking at him! The appraising stare was just like that of the real lions, too. A second glance showed him that the eyes were highly polished stones, of the kind called dragon’s eyes in Caere. But they looked so real, Arcas couldn’t suppress a shudder.
“Put your hand in the lion’s mouth,” Uncle Danar said.
Arcas shot him a look of disbelief, but Uncle Danar only nodded confirmation. Taking a deep breath, Arcas reluctantly did as he was told. The bone teeth pressed against his wrist, but they didn’t feel as sharp as they looked. Inside, the wood was smooth and warm. He held completely still as those uncanny stone eyes appeared to focus on him even more closely.
The texture of the wood under his fingers made him feel oddly welcomed, though he couldn’t have said why he felt that. A strange, tingling sensation crept up his arm. The light from the single lamp seemed brighter all of a sudden, making him squint. He sensed a connection to something bigger and wilder. It felt as if he’d expanded to fit a wider world than he had known before.
Arcas followed Uncle Danar back out into the center of the hut. Even turning his back on the one burning lamp, somehow the dim light didn’t obscure as much as it had before. As if he had acquired the lions’ night vision, he could see the interior of the hut clearly, now. Arcas blinked in the sudden blaze as all the lamps in the hut were relit. Had the light been that bright before?
The new clan members sat down on the floor. Arcas was glad. He’d begun to feel a little unsteady. Uncle Danar knelt behind him, holding him by the shoulders. The healers came forward to give each initiate their first clan tattoo.
“This will be quick,” the healer said, pulling Arcas’s tunic up.
She dipped a cloth into a small bowl and swabbed his left breast. Arcas smelled the sharp tang of something unfamiliar in the ointment. The skin the ointment touched went numb. Then the healer took up a long, yarn-wrapped thorn, dipping the thorn and yarn into a bowl of pigment. Despite his best efforts, Arcas flinched as she raised the thorn. Uncle Danar held him steady, as if he had expected that reaction.
The healer smiled at him reassuringly. “It might help if you look away.”
Arcas turned his head slightly and squeezed his eyes shut when he felt her press the thorn against his skin. He held his breath, anticipating the puncture, but he never felt it. What was she waiting for? He opened his eyes and turned his head back.
The healer smiled again. “Almost done.”
Arcas relaxed. This wasn’t so bad after all. Now that his fears had passed, whatever had been in that cup Uncle Danar gave him took full hold. He felt warm and sleepy, safely enveloped in the Spirit of the Lion.