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Section 1

The matter troubled me. At the hospital, I asked them to keep it quiet. At first it seemed wonderful, but my thoughts soon turned inky-black like squid gut. I knew I must bring the tribes together at a summit.

I sent my best woman to the Tamoe, asking after their leader, Srit-Taka. Srit-Taka agreed to a summit, and sent her best seeker south to rouse the Intucki chief Mal-Er, then on to the snakemen in the west, where the forest is thickest. Once the snakehead had agreed, he said he knew where to find the Queen of the Shamoe, who was only half-human.

The summit would be held in the mown grove of cottonwood, where the valley of flowers sweeps steeply from the bluebird's shrine, which follows from the stack of white stones that the snakes infest, then follows to the webs of the spider-women, down again, into the cinder-yard and then claypits, and up old smoke hill to the edge of Capulca, where the sea is first seen. Then down the long street of Capulca to my house.


Section 2

I am not the first to arrive. Srit-Taka is there before me, for she is fast like a darting hummingbird. I will admit, the Tamoe know these forests better than the Pekoe, whose knowledge falls behind each time the sun passes over.

"Srit-Taka, have patience in an old rival. For I am almost at the summit, but my back is tired from walking, and my knuckle is white from holding my stick."

“Ah-Nut, old rival, do not be worried. Though we are alone, I have no wish to kill you, frail as you are."

She wears the mask of the child, and is feeling playful. I take my place upon the curved rock we call the summit, where a snake could easily be seen and driven away.

Cheeky one! What news of Mal-Er?”

"He comes as we speak."

And striding behind me was Mal-Er, brawny-like, waving his bulbous torch across the floor to scare away the snakes.


Section 3

"I bring a thousand kisses from the Intucki, though Ah-Nut, in my village we still call you pig-sticket."

Mal-Er laughed and re-arranged his pouch like a dog. I suffered beneath the mask, but Srit-Taka saw through it.

"Come Ah-Nut," she laughed, "you must not rise to such taunts."

"What of the snakeman?" I said.

"He has far to travel, and will arrive soon."

"And the Shamoe?"

"Gri-Liif is already here," whispered a sensuous voice, and we saw that young Gri-Liif had been stretched out beside us all along. She had been hidden in the rock somehow. She looked like a wise and beautiful panther, and it felt as if we'd known her all our lives.

"Why did you bring us here?" she brooded, for  the Shamoe dislike making themselves known.

"I have an important matter to discuss," I said.


Section 4

We waited for a day for Tally-Tee of the Snakemen to arrive, while we told stories of snakes and the other animals, and fed on snake hearts Mal-Er had brought.

Tally Tee himself could not stand to see us eat a snake.

When he arrived the next morning, I finally brought the matter that weighed heavy on me to summit.

"All our ways are different, and we must promise not to squabble, even if you Tally-Tee, wish to live among the snakes, and you Mal-Er wish to kill them. We shall not speak of this meeting with anyone, by the spirit Meth, who gave us this summit stone."

"We accept your terms," swore the four before me. The Snakemen had fought the Intucki many times, since they were so far apart in understanding, but neither would defy a law sworn upon the spirit stone.


SECTION 5 MISSING


Section 6

"Do what you will Ah-Nut, it cannot affect us. If the northerners want to take my land, let him attack, and die by fire," said Mal-Er of the Intucki swishing his torch around him, still looking for the snake. He was less at home here than on his beaches. His tribe built their sandforts there, and trapped the snakes between fire and the sea.

"Stupid Intucki," said slender Queen of the Shamoe, Gri-Liif, "not all people are brutes."

"Yes," I said, "Gri-Liif is right. The money-men will not come in daylight with sticks and beat in your door, they will creep slowly in at night like the tide, until all the house is flooded, and you are flushed out clinging onto your last good plank."

"But they can do nothing while Hatep rules Koinos," said Tally-Tee. He looked up to the stormclouds for a glimpse of Hatep's tail, and we saw the full save of his serpent mask. "They can do nothing when we have the snake."

"That is why I have summoned you here," I said gravely, "Since we have found a cure against it's poison."


Section 7

"How many people know of this cure?" said Srit-Taka.

"Myself, and three nurses at Capulca."

"Are they Pekoe?"

"Yes, all are Pekoe."

"Not Bandians with the sickness, escaped to hide their faces?"

I raised my three fingers to say "no".

"Not Gallish soul-sellers then?" said Gri-Liif.

"What do you know of Gall?" scoffed Mal-Er.

"More than you, less than most. They say Gall will sell any secret for the right price."


SECTION 8 MISSING


Section 9

We spent several days beside the rock, and we frolicked in the streams. Mal-Er caught us river fish, and we lay awake at night pondering right and wrong. The stars gave us no sign, and we knew we must each decide for ourselves.

Finally the day arrived. Those voting for spreading word of a cure would mark the stone with a circle. Those voting against with a cross. Each would cover their mark with a broad leaf. When all had marked the stone, the leaves would be removed and the vote counted. Each would then make the case for their mark, so that the matter was closed in their minds.


Section 10

The vote was as follows;

Me X
Gri-Liif X
Mal-Er O
Srit-Taka O
Tally-Tee X

And so it was decided that the cure would be hushed. Once I had burned our findings, myself and the others must undergo the memory ritual - an experience so painful it would clear our minds of what we knew, or prevent us from speaking of it.

The summit now explained their vote.

"My people have no need of the cure," said Tally-Tee of the snakemen.

"I feel sad for the children who die of the bite, but I respect this brave decision," said Srit-Taka of the Tamoe.

"You are all standing in the way of progress. If we have it, why not use it? We could keep it a secret among ourselves!" said Mal-Er of Intucki, but it was too late for that now.

"These lands are sacred. Those that come to exploit, they are who would benefit most, not us, who have always lived beside the snake," said Gri-Liif.

I raised five fingers for "yes", as I thought Queen Gri-Liif of the Shamoe spoke true. I removed my mask of medicine, for it was not in keeping for the lie we would now swear upon.

"Then we are agreed. I am with you Gri-Liif. If they do not fear Koinos, they will come here in their thousands, looking for Atlas, and there will be nothing we can do to stop them.“


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