The Great Botutsu scrabbled under a low bush, digging at the roots until he came up with a large bulb. Shaking the dirt from his prize he tossed it to Comasa. Comasa caught it and placed it in the large bag hanging from his shoulder.
The bag was heavy. It was Comasa's job to carry for the Great Botutsu. To fetch for the Great Botutsu. To empty the gourd the Great Botutsu kept next to his bed. To cook. To clean. To do what he was told.
In exchange the Great Botutsu would give Comasa knowledge. He would teach Comasa about the plants and animals, about their spirits and how they could be used to help and heal. He would also learn about poisons, or so he suspected. The Great Botutsu never addressed the subject directly, and always deflected questions on the matter.
"That is the root of the Tum Tum tree." said the Great Botutsu. "It brings sleep to those who have a wounded spirit. It heals the mind and quiets the small demons that harbor in the hearts of those who have been long sad."
Comasa nodded. He had seen it used on Mama Kodumba when she had lost her husband to a great beast in one of the hunts. Her heart had been wounded by the beasts spirit, or so the Great Botutsu had said. The beast having eaten her husband, the spirit of the beast had followed the bond of their marriage to consume the mate as well. She had lost the will to live, and was unable to care for her children.
The Great Botutsu had given her the last of his dried root, a bit at a time over the course of two months. With the passage of time she had returned to herself, and the spirit of the beast had been driven out. Comasa had been assigned to the nightly drum rituals to drive out the beast, and after much time the root and drum had prevailed.
Mama Kodumba was again tending to her children, and cooking the wonderful meals for which she had been famous. Comasa had entertained some concern that the fat those meals had put on Mama Kodumba's husband may have prevented him from escaping the beast that slew him, but he knew better than to speak of such things.
The Great Botusu was the one to speak. It was Comasa's job to listen and learn.
Now the Great Botusu was looking at a plant that was unfamiliar to Comasa. Perhaps it was unfamiliar to the Great Botusu, as well. The Great Botusu walked around the plant one way, and then the other. He looked it up from root to tip, and down from tip to root. He then sat before the plant, and held out his hand.
Comasa untied the small bag from his belt and handed it to the Great Botusu. The Great Botusu opened the bag and withdrew a pinch of smoke weed. He dug a small hole at the base of the plant he was studying and burried the bit of weed. Tossing the bag back to Comasa the Great Botusu began to chant.
Comasa sat down next to his master and joined in the chant. As he had been taught he visualized the plant as a seed, falling from the sky and coming to earth in this place. He imagined it growing, putting forth root and leaf and over time coming to be the plant before them.
The Great Botusu got up and cut several branches of leaves from the plant. He dug at the base of the plant and brought forth some of the roots. All of these he wrapped carefully in his prayer shawl, and cradled them as they walked back to the village.
When they arrived Comasa went to work preparing all of the things they had collected for drying and storing. When everything was cleaned and arranged on the drying racks he went in search of his master.
The Great Botusu was sitting by a small fire in front of their hut. He had a clay vessel heating in the coals, and Comasa could see some of the leaves from the unknown plant soaking in the hot water.
"Sit, Comasa." said the Great Botusu. "It is time for the next step in your initiation."
Comasa sat. The Great Botusu used some wooden tongs to remove the hot clay pot from the coals. He poured off a small portion into a little bowl. He held it up, allowing the vapors to enter his nose. He put in a finger and brought one tiny drop to his tongue. This he spit out. He offered the bowl to Comasa.
Comasa also let the vapors enter into his nose. He touched the brew with one finger, and touched it to his tongue. He did not spit it out, but let it rest there. He waited, holding the warm bowl in his hands.
The Great Botusu watched and waited with him. Then he took up his rattle, and began to shake the rattle first to the left of Comasa, and then to the right. Comasa drank from the bowl. He waited, watching the fire and listening to the sound of the rattle.
Brighter and brighter grew the light of the fire. The sound of the rattle grew crisp and seemed to take on a strange color. That did not seem right. The light of the fire filled his eyes. The rattle went through his head. There was a sudden pain in his chest and then there was darkness and silence.
Slowly the light came back to Comasa. Rather than rattles his ears picked up the sound of a small bell occasionally struck. He opened his eyes and could just make out the shape of his master above him. Comasa realized he was laying on his sleeping mat, and tried to rise.
The Great Botusu pushed him back down. "Rest. You have been four days in the spirit realm. Fever and sweat, and strange words from your tongue. Four days. When you are strong again you will tell me of your journey."
Comasa expected his head to hurt, but it felt remarkably clear. His body felt worn, as if he had worked long and hard and then run many miles. As he lay there he began to think again about his decision to bind himself to the Great Botusu.
He then recalled the long hours tending the fields or minding the goats. The long trail hunting in the forest, often with little to eat and not always with success.
With the Great Botusu he had plenty of food. The village provided well for the medicine man, and Comasa shared in that bounty. He enjoyed the learning, and mastering knowledge that was held by only a few.
He would rest. While he rested he would try to recall his journey to the spirit realm. Right now he only remembered pain and darkness, but he was sure the truth of the journey would come to him as he rested.
The little bell tolled by his ear. "I will name the new plant for you, Comasa." said the Great Botusu. "You wrestled with demons while the plant held you in darkness. Reach back. Remember. Find the names of the demons. You will one day be the Great Comasa."
Comasa hovered on the edge of sleep. He could now see the demons in his mind. He could remember the battle. Yes. It would be a mighty tale to tell, when he woke again.
Somewhere a bell rang softly in the distance.