Guilt

Original post to Darkwind’s Garou Board as "Wolf Tales (23)" on 29 September 2004

Revised 21.11.2021

Shanti sits by the bed and watches Rikard sleep. The daily Rite of Cleansing finished just a few minutes ago and the other shamans have already departed. They performed the rite three times now, as this is the third day since the Pack's battle with the Dancers, the discovery of the Wyrm manifestation and, of course, since Rikard took the balefire.

Uziah, Shaman of the Uktena, was last to leave the room. "He'll recover," he assured her.

"Will he ever be fit again? As he was before?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper, as if speaking pained her.

Uziah smiled gently. "He will recover, Shanti," he replied. "His progress is remarkable already. And he has you to thank for it."

She shook her head firmly. "We all know it was you, Uziah."

The Elder Shaman, gentle smile still in place, nodded. "Yes, I did my part. But if not for you, he would have been beyond any help."

She pursed her lips together but said nothing.

And now she's alone with Rikard. Dark rings under her eyes -- not much sleep for her lately. Part of that is the village. She spent most of the last three days there, helping them repair their lives and move on. The young chief -- the one who saved her life during the battle -- is doing quite well and growing into his new role just fine.

Nightfall sees her here, at Rikard's side with the rest of the Shamans, to perform the Rite of Cleansing. And then with the break of dawn, back to the village.

Stressful, yes. But not exhausting -- not for a Garou in her prime.

No, there's another reason for her lack of proper rest -- guilt. She's never in her life felt so inadequate, so useless and such a failure. The balefire crippled Rikard, her beloved Pack Keeper -- because she didn't measure up. The greatest test of her ability as Pack Shamaness came three days ago -- and she was found wanting.

She closes her eyes tightly against the knowlege of it, willing it to leave her in peace -- but it does not. A tear rolls down her cheek. She opens her eyes, takes Rikard's hand in both of hers and presses her face to it. "Forgive me..." she breathes. "Forgive me..."

..........................................................

Shanti?

...Yes?

Deep night. The entire Sept asleep except for the warders. And the grieving Shamaness. And the one who telepathically called her name. The pause in her answer is not from fatigue or lack of attention, but from her distress at being discovered awake. And by whom.

Come here. An imperative.

Yes.

She stands, slips on some clothes and makes her way to Nagha's room.

A single candle burns inside. Nagha stands waiting for her. "Come in, please," he says.

She enters the room and bows her head. "My Leader."

Nagha chuckles. "Shanti, why so formal? At this Gaea-forsaken hour? Come here, please. Sit down." He guides her to a chair and then sits down opposite her. He passes her a cup of something warm. "Drink it, please."

The aroma alone makes her feel better and she drinks it gladly. "One of your secret teas from Kerei?" she asks with a weak smile.

He chuckles. "Indeed." Then his face becomes serious. "Thoughts off, words only." By which he means: no telepathy, which the other pack members would catch if they're awake (or almost awake). She nods.

"Shanti, it's been three days now. When will you return to us?"

She blinks and glances sideways. "I don't understand."

Nagha sighs. "'Stupid' you are not and never were. Don't pretend to be so now."

Shamaness stares at the floor. Her Leader simply waits.

She looks up and their eyes lock -- hers moist and timid, his firm and unwavering. She looks down again.

Nagha sighs and presses his lips together, as a parent might do with their stubborn child. "Speak now," He commands. "Here and now. And when I say 'speak' I mean really speak. And when I say 'now', I mean right now. No more evasions. No more playing stupid. And I will hear all of it. Do you understand me, Shamaness?"

She swallows. It's been a long time since he spoke to her in that way. "Yes. My Leader." she answers.

"Then begin."

She swallows again. "This pack needs a shaman."

Nagha's expression doesn't change. "This pack already has a shaman."

She shakes her head. "No. It needs a proper one."

Nagha just looks at her and waits.

"Because I failed!" she blurts out.

"Explain."

She takes a breath and begins. "I ... wasn't strong enough. I mean, my devotion wasn't strong enough. The Light came down on Rikard, yes, and it ... should have protected him. But it failed." She sniffles. "I failed! You need ... someone like Uziah -- his luna light would have held ... would have blocked the balefire ... would have saved Rikard. He'll recover, yes. But he'll never be what he was before! I ..." she sniffles again. "I failed Rikard. Failed you all."

She falls silent. "Go on," he says.

She sighs through clenched teeth. "Don't you see, Nagha? Don't you understand? It was my great test. The ... test of my ... devotion." She pauses to blink back the tears that threaten. "And I failed. I don't understand why! I've ... studied so hard ... meditated ... developed my eurus ... attuned myself to the Earthmother. It ... I ... I don't know. I'm ... so sorry!"

And now the tears finally come. She puts her head in her hands and her shoulders shake with the sobs.

Through it all, Nagha sits and watches her, expression impassive, except for his eyes, which betray the sympathy and conflict he feels. He wants to take her in his arms, kiss her tears away, tell her it will be all right -- but no, not proper. And anyway, let her purge. He hands her a handkerchief, which she takes without a word and dabs at her face. Is she spent? He'll take that chance. Now to move on...

"Shanti?"

Her wet, red eyes meet his.

"How would you best me in combat?"

She blinks. Of all the questions he might ask, this is the last one she expects. It's so far off the subject that she thinks he must be joking. But his steady gaze is serious.

"Well ... I would, uhm ..." She gives a little laugh. "I would rip out your throat while you sleep, Nagha! But you in crinos? With halberd? Why ... you're unbeatable! There's not a wolf in the Sept who could take you down."

"And you truly believe that?"

She frowns and wonders where he's going with this. It's like asking if the snow is white and the grass is green. But she merely answers, "Absolutely, Nagha."

He nods, leans closer, keeps his eyes on hers and his voice takes on an earnest tone. "Now you listen to me, Shamaness -- and you listen well! That Dancer. The last one. Do you have any idea about him? Of course you don't. You were busy tending Rikard. That wyrmling held a Lupus by the throat with just one paw -- and was strangling him to death. That bastard took my halberd full in his back -- and pulled it out! Then he took it full in the chest while flat on his back -- while I leaned on it. And still he fought! I twisted a double-bladed, spiked hunk of metal in his chest with everything I had. I collapsed his lungs. I made him vomit blood. And still he fought! I gave it my all -- and then I gave some more. And he would not -- go -- down!"

Nagha stares at her for a moment. Then he looks down, sighs and runs a hand over his head, wipes his brow, looks back at her. "I tell you, Shanti -- up until the moment he finally gave up his ghost, I did not know if he ever would!"

She just stares at him, mouth hanging open.

Nagha sighs again, then fixes her with a hard stare and continues, "Now you tell me something, Shamaness ... if a Black Spiral Dancer could strangle a Lupus one-handed and fight me -- in crinos, with halberd -- and give me that much trouble and make me doubt myself so much -- you tell me and you tell me now -- just how potent would be the balefire that such a Dancer could summon?"

Shanti blinks rapidly a few times. Recognition dawns in her eyes.

"You saved Rikard! You did not fail! If your luna had not been there in the nick of time, then not even Luna herself could have helped. You saved him, Shanti! Do you finally understand? Do you GET IT NOW?"

She blinks again and sniffles. Then nods.

Nagha leans forward, takes her hands gently in his and looks into her eyes. "This pack already has a Shamaness," he says. He smiles. "And I am well-pleased with her."

She drops her eyes, smiles shyly and looks at him again.

"Come back to us, Shanti," he says gently, but still with the force of command. "Come back to us now. You've had three days to feel sorry for yourself. Enough. Time now to be Shamaness again. We need you."

She closes her eyes and nods. "Yes. I will." She looks at him evenly. "I am!"

He smiles and nods back to her. He stands and she does likewise.

"Thank you," she says. They stand there for a moment, facing each other, saying nothing. Then she reaches out tentatively and touches his cheek. He closes his eyes as a tremor takes him. She comes forward, embraces him. His arms go around her of their own volition. She kisses his cheek. He buries one hand in her hair and places the other on her lower back, keeping her close to him. She turns her head, perhaps to kiss his other cheek, but his mouth intercepts hers as it passes -- and for a time that neither one measures, nothing else in the universe matters.

Finally, the kiss breaks. Both stare at each other, breathing quickly, faces a mix of desire and guilt, hopelessness and longing.

She takes a deep breath. "We can't."

He closes his eyes and nods. "I know."

She shakes her head and a tear runs down her cheek. "Not ... again..."

He opens his eyes and looks in hers. "No ... never."

She gently moves away, while her hands stay on him for as long possible. "Good night, Nagha."

He smiles sadly. "Sleep well, Shanti."

They gaze at each other a moment longer. Then she turns away and quietly leaves the room.

Sleep is a long time coming to both -- "love" will do that ... the excitement, thrill, indescribably wonderful emotions ... none of that applies here. There is no "excitement" -- only grave sadness. There is no "thrill" -- only abject shame. For what but sadness and shame could ever come of the forbidden love between two Garou?