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When Laulja emerged from the cave, Kalju stood waiting in the waning sunlightAll the other younglingsgathered around him to tell himof what had befallen the expedition. 

Türann spoke most. He told of his leadership andof his great ability. And when he came to speak of how he had very nearly plummeted to his death, he told Kalju that he had managed to pull himself onto the outcropping at the last moment. If felt, so he said, as if the spirits themselves had guided him. 

That part, at least, was true. 

Laulja didn't really know why he had done it. There had been something he could only call a conscientious override: the instructions he had issued to the spirits as Türann's life hung by a threadhad been the opposite of what he had wanted them to be:

"Help him up," instead of "Cast him down." 

Laulja snorted and kicked at a small pebble. He had always been a weakling. 

When rann finished his tale, Kalju looked at Laulja. There was a mystifying smile on Kalju's wizened, gray-furred face. Under that gaze, Laulja felt ashamed of what he had planned--but not executed--in thedarkness of the cave; he hung his head in silence and looked only at the pine needles on the forest floor. 

Finally, Kalju spoke: "It is as I, Kalju, Prophet of the Wendel, have foretold: you have ventured into this cave and your mettle has been tested." He raised both hands high in the air and flailed them about in veneration of the spirits. The other younglings muttered excitedly, but Laulja kept his eyes low. 

Kalju ceased this display as sudden as he had begun it and gazed at the younglings one by one. "Now," he said, "we must return to the tribe, for the chieftains are eager to hear of this test and who of youI have found worthy to become shaman." 

The group fell in line behind Kalju as he spewed his prophecies and resumed his ramblings on the various flora that lived, fought, fed, and died in the pine forest around them. Laulja walked in the back, utterly dejected. 

But as the sky darkened, Kalju grew silent. He let Türann and Maimu lead the column, while he himself fell back until he walked next to Laulja. Laulja dared not to meet his gaze. They walked in silence for a while, until Kalju finally spoke: 

"To a shaman," he said, "the tribe always comes first." He looked at the muscular Türann who gallantly led Maimu through the pine forest. "The shaman is not a leader, and rarely is he a muscular and handsome hero to the tribe's fairest women. . ." He smiled. "Except perhaps in my case." 

Laulja looked up at Kalju, confused. But Kalju smiled at him, his usual theatrics gone. "A shaman is selfless not by conscious action, but by conscientious action," he said. "I shall recommend you to the chieftains as the next shaman, and I shall ask to train you myself." 

Kalju then smiled, patted Laulja roughly on the back, and said: "So you had best get used to thanklessly healing and saving a great many stab-happy and overly confidentoafs while they get the honor, the glory, and the girl." 

Laulja fixed his eyes on the bragging and proud Türann in front, and--for the first of what would be a great many times in his life--he regretted his selfless actions in the cave. 

[End]

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