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Through the pines trudged a giant with thick, braided gray fur. Two long horns protruded from his goat-like head, both adorned with rings of patina-green copper. He was almost nine feet tall. His name was Kalju, and Kalju reckoned his fur thickest, his horns longest, his wit sharpest, and his magic strongest of all the shamans of the plains.

Laulja the youngling of the tribe Piilursa followed him, together with three other younglings that trained to be shamans.

Presently, Kalju spoke to Maimu, the spear-bearing female youngling, at who Laulja had shot furtive glances ever since he first saw her.

“You may be as tall as I am,” Kalju said to Maimu, “but the spirits do not listen to you as they do to me, and thus the Wendel do not like you as much as they like me.”

Maimu gave a sullen look of disappointment.

“For I am Kalju,” Kalju continued, furry finger high in the air. “Prophet of the Wendel, and wise in all things.” He stopped and pointed at a horseshoe-shaped mushroom that grew on the bole of a tree. “See that mushroom?”

Maimu pushed aside a beautiful long fur-braid and stared intently at the mushroom.

“That is a mushroom I have called the Kalju-Fire-Mushroom,” Kalju said. “If you remove its cap, you will find a spongy interior that is flammable and excellent kindling.”

Maimu stepped back, as if the Kalju-Fire-Mushroom might ignite any moment. “Very wise, o great Kalju, Prophet of the Wendel,” she said.

"We must remember these things,” Kalju said. “Knowledge is your greatest weapon." He wheeled to face Laulja and narrowed his eyes at him. "Laulja, repeat the names of the five mushrooms we have seen today.”

Laulja straightened his back and recited the names: “The Kalju-Fire-Mushroom, the Kalju-the-Great-Cap, the Kalju-Favored-of-the-Wendel-Fungus, the Kalju-the-Prophet-Cap--” he hesitated for a moment and threw an unhappy glance at Maimu “--and the Laulja-is-an-Idiot-Mushroom.”

“That’s right,” Kalju said. His eyes beamed with satisfaction. “And what is the Laulja-is-an-Idiot-Mushroom not for, Laulja?”

Laulja stared down at his feet. “It is not for eating. . .”

“Right again!” Kalju then tapped the trunk of a nearby tree with his staff. “Türann,” he said. “What is this?”

The handsome youngling stepped forward. “That, o Prophet, is a Kalju-Evergreen,” he said. “You have called it evergreen because while it sheds needles throughout the year, it never loses its color. Only when the needles touch the ground do they turn brown, which is why I humbly suggest we call them Kalju-Brown-when-down-Needles.”

Kalju threw up his arms in happy admiration of his best pupil. “Kalju-Brown-when-down-Needles,” he repeated. “It even rhymes!”

As the younglings muttered admiration for the clever naming, Laulja looked at Maimu. But she had no eyes for him; she swooned over Türann, who shot her a self-assured and bold glance.

Laulja snorted. . . silently. How could she want him? All he had was looks and knowledge of trees. Who was ever a great shaman by knowing which trees were always green? Or by knowing which mushrooms did or didn’t give you the runs?

Maybe it was time for him to show Maimu his qualities. Maybe then she would change her mind. . .


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