This teaser is from Peacemaker. At this point in the story, our hero Caleb has had his mount (an arcane-powered mechanical construct) explode beneath him, and the bad guy has staked him spread-eagled out in the middle of the prairie to die. But it appears that someone isn’t ready to let him go yet…
Cool water trickled over his lips, and delicate touches moved over his chest and arms while the soothing song went on. It took him some time to realize that he could open his eyes if he wanted, and when he did he found himself staring up into dark eyes set in a lovely, honey-brown face.
The Indian woman, the one from the mountain and his dreams, smiled to see him awake, and she slipped her hand behind his head to support him while she trickled more water down his throat.
Caleb gulped it as fast as he could, though he was certain even an entire river would not have been enough. When he managed to choke himself, she laid his head back down with a chiding look.
“I…” He paused to cough. “Thank you.”
Smiling shyly, she gathered up some clothes and bowls and rose, walking gracefully across the floor.
Only then did Caleb realize that he was inside one of the large teepees, cheerfully lit by a crackling fire in the middle. The smoke rose in a column through the hole in the top, and beyond it he could see only darkness. It was still night then, but the same night, or another one?
An attempt to sit up revealed that he was still stretched and tied, the lodge apparently erected right over his place of confinement. The nullstone amulet still nestled in the center of his chest. Perhaps they didn’t trust him after all. “How long have I been here?”
The woman was busily working with some pungent smelling plants on her side of the fire, and barely glanced over at his voice. His answer came instead from the other side.
“Time passes differently here, so that is hard to say.” From the shadows, the old shaman appeared, moving to take a seat next to the fire. The coyote familiar padded into view as well, laying down with its head on its paws, but its eyes on Caleb.
“You speak English now?”
The old man smiled, the creases in his face deepening. “There is only one language of the spirit, and all who are brothers may speak it in this place.”
Caleb glanced around. “What, in this teepee?”
“You are in the Place Between.”
“The place between what?”
“Between life and death. Between asleep and awake. Between one world and the next.” The white-haired man threw a handful of something on the flames, and aromatic smoke rolled out. Sage, Caleb thought. “Coyote spoke to me of your need, and your readiness to see this place.”
Caleb eyed the familiar beside the fire, but he couldn’t tell if it was the same coyote that had watched over him on the prairie. One looked very much like another. “Am I…hallucinating still?”
The old man chuckled. “It is possible. That is one way of reaching this place.”
“Am I dying?” The woman returned to his side, and Caleb eyed her warily. She knelt, scooping a handful of a dark, wet substance from a bowl, and began smearing it on his burned forearms. The poultice was cool and sent tingles through his skin.
“I do not believe you are dying. Though you would have, without our aid.” The old man produced a long pipe and began filling it with tobacco. Caleb could smell it even under the aroma of the other herbs. “I am called Crying Elk. I am the medicine man of this band of the people. And you are a star soldier of the white man.”
“Star soldier?” The old man tapped the place above his heart, and Caleb understood. “My badge…” It was gone, he supposed, wherever Warner had discarded his shirt.
“You are not the same as the last star soldier who came to this land. He was a man like the dark one, the one who digs into the mountain’s heart and causes such pain. He was only interested in his personal gain.” Crying Elk smirked with dark humor. “We would not have aided him, no matter how he begged Coyote.”
That fit in line with everything Caleb had learned about his predecessor. “I feel like I should apologize for that.”
The old shaman snorted, smoke curling from his nostrils to join the haze. “Each man chooses to walk his own path. His choice was not yours, so why would you need to apologize for it?”
Caleb shrugged, only to be reminded of the bonds that tied him. The woman frowned at his fidgeting, reaching to smooth some of the sticky goop over his forehead as well. “What is…what is she doing?” Instinctively, he flinched away from her touch, and she frowned, grabbing his chin firmly and giving him a glare.
“She is a great healer of our people. The poultice will take the heat from your wounds, allow them to heal. The water will replenish you.”
“Why are you doing this for me?”
“I told you this already. Because you are not like the other. You spare lives when you could more easily take them, even among people not your own. You give food to the hungry, and warning to those in danger.” The old man grinned in the firelight. “Though your spirit guide should more likely be praised for that.”
Spirit guide…Ernst! “Is Ernst all right? Where is he?”
“I am certain he is fine. He was fine before he found you, and he will be fine after you are gone.” He rested a hand on the head of his own familiar, more a gesture of respect for an equal than affection bestowed on a pet. The coyote looked up, and Caleb swore he could see the animal smile in return.
Even knowing he would not be able to move past the nullstone, Caleb tried to reach out for his connection to Ernst. It was like pushing through yards of wet wool, but he gritted his teeth and tried anyway.
The woman slapped his arm lightly, and shook a finger in warning. Caleb resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her petulantly.
“You are not strong enough just now to fight the power of the draining stone. I will teach you later, when you are more yourself.” Crying Elk drew on his pipe deeply, his eyes watching the dance of the fire before him. “Now is the time when we must speak of more serious things.”
Caleb dragged his gaze away from the woman with her hands all over him to look at the old shaman. “What things? And you know, it’s hard to have a conversation all tied up like this.”
“Is it? It is not bothering me in the least.” The old man blew a perfect smoke ring, amusement in his dark eyes. “Attend now. Time must not be wasted in this place.”
“But you said time—” Caleb fell silent at a look from the old man. Maybe they’d answer his questions later. Probably, they wouldn’t. Just like Ernst.