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Authors: W. Michael Gear

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Native American & Aboriginal

People of the Earth (5 page)

BOOK: People of the Earth
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How would she be able to face Sage Ghost when
he returned? How could she look him in the eyes and tell him that the woman he
loved more than life lay dying in the lodge? How could she stand his pain? Sage
Ghost lived for Bright Moon, sharing a love with her unlike any White Ash had
ever seen. For Bright Moon, he'd traveled south to steal a child.

 
          
 
She'd never known a man as good as Sage Ghost.
He had become her shield against the world. When the Dreams came on her, he
smiled knowingly, and kept them a secret from others. And when she asked him
about Power, he got that hidden look in his eyes, a curiously wistful smile
curling his lips. But he'd never talk to her about it, saying simply,
"Power does as it will." And he'd pat her on the shoulder, the warmth
of love in his eyes.

 
          
 
She looked over at Bright Moon. The old woman
had been such a wonderful mother—so much better than her real mother among the
Earth People. When Bright Moon died, a hole would be ripped in White Ash's soul
the way a thrown rock tore through thin ice on a pond. A hole she would never
fill again.

 
          
 
Everything would change. What would life be
like, just herself and Sage Ghost? What if his soul sickened? That happened
sometimes; the soul pined away, lost in grief, until it drifted off and left
the body behind as an empty husk.

 
          
 
White Ash reached up with slim fingers to
massage her stiff face. Her eyes burned; fatigue burdened her with all the
oppressive weight of a freshly skinned buffalo hide. Sage Ghost would depend on
her. He'd need her as never before— and she wouldn't even have time to grieve.
Her shoulders would take the brunt of the tragedy.

 
          
 
Worse, Brave Man would seize the opportunity
to pressure Sage Ghost into letting him marry her. Brave
Man.
She'd been in love with him once. What had
happened to the dashing youth she'd played and laughed with? He'd been
light-hearted, daring and handsome. She wished she could simply remember him as
he had been, see the sparkle in his dancing dark eyes and enjoy the gay smile
on his laughing lips. She'd felt a special affinity for Brave Man, a sense of
their destiny together. In her heart she'd known they would marry. Her love for
him had grown through the years, richening, ripening—until the day the Black
Point had ambushed the camp on the Fat Beaver. Dashing young Brave Man had been
wounded in the attack, or perhaps—as he claimed—Brave Man had really died in
the attack. Rock Mouse had seen him hit in the head, watched him fall, and seen
the blood pool from the gash in his scalp. Several moons later No Teeth and
Bobcat had found him wandering aimlessly through the sage-covered hills. Oddly
changed, curiously Powerful, Brave Man claimed to have escaped from the Camp of
the Dead. A new gleam lit his glazed eyes as he told of the voices that now
whispered in his head.

 
          
 
Disgust rose like bile in her throat. Her memory
drifted back to last summer . . .

 
          
 
With great cunning, Brave Man had ambushed her
on the trail, carrying her kicking and screaming into the thick willows along
the
Gray
Deer
River
. Despite her struggles, she'd been helpless
in his powerful arms. She shivered at the memory of his muscles, bulging like
river cobbles under her flailing fists.

 
          
 
He'd thrown her down, a triumphant light in
his eyes as he pinned her beneath him. She'd continued to struggle, knowing how
futile her efforts were.

 
          
 
"You've turned me down for the last
time." A nervous smile had flickered across his lips. "The Spirits
told me to do this. They whisper to me, you know. It's Power. I want you."

 
          
 
She glared at him. "You can't do this!
Not and get away with it!"

 
          
 
He laughed, running his hand up under her
deerskin dress to feel her thighs and the place between her legs. “I can. Among
the White Clay, a man can steal any woman—as long as he knows where to take
her. I have relatives among the Broken Stones. You and I will go there. You'll
be my wife and bear my children. No one will be as Powerful as we will."

 
          
 
“And if I don't want to?"

 
          
 
He'd grinned. “You can run away. But when you
do, I'll track you down and bring you back. I've listened to the Spirits. They
say you're mine. The voices will tell me where you are. We are going to be
Powerful one day. You and I together. I've Dreamed it. Yes, I've seen that
you're the way to the golden light."

 
          
 
“You'll have to beat me to death!"

 
          
 
He'd shrugged. “Perhaps. But I don't think Power
will let you die. You're too important."

 
          
 
She tensed as he pulled the hem of her soft
hide dress up, then undid the thong that held his fringed breechclout. She
whimpered at the sight of his distended organ.

 
          
 
“Don't do this. Brave Man, don't . . . don't
..." Her strength proved no match for his as he forced a knee between her
thighs and pried her legs apart.

 
          
 
She stared into his eyes, seeing them glaze as
if belonging to another. She could feel his Power—and it curdled her soul. As
his penis touched her, she tightened, knowing how much more it would hurt,
unable to stop herself.

 
          
 
“Are you ready?" he whispered. “Ready for
the unity of our Power?"

 
          
 
A cry choked in her throat as he reached down
to open her for his entry.

 
          
 
“So!" a familiar voice called from the
willows. “Is this what my friend meant by going hunting this afternoon?"

 
          
 
Brave Man tensed, looking over his shoulder.
Relief rushed like spring floodwaters through White Ash's soul.

           
 
A strangled sound came from Brave Man's throat
before he shouted, "Get away! If you value my friendship, Wind Runner,
you'll leave now!"

 
          
 
Handsome, with the smooth grace of a hunting
cougar, Wind Runner parted the willows to stand on braced legs, one fist
propped insolently on his hip. His other hand gripped hunting darts and an
atlatl
. The dappled sunlight gleamed in his thick black
hair, striking sparks from his hard eyes. The lines of his mouth—more suited to
laughter—had gone thin-lipped. "Let her up."

 
          
 
White Ash broke loose and scrambled away,
crouching to the side, wary eyes on both of the young men. "He wanted to
carry me off to the Broken Stones."

 
          
 
"I heard." Wind Runner chewed his
lip, thinking hard before he addressed Brave Man. "This is difficult, old
friend. We all know that men steal women, but to do so isn't worthy of who I
always thought you were. Then to hear that you would beat White Ash . . . well,
that makes me wonder."

 
          
 
"You go too far!" Brave Man stood,
reknotting
the thong that held his breechclout. The muscles
rolled under his smooth skin. Then he started for Wind Runner, fingers
grasping—only to come up on the sharp point of a dart.

 
          
 
"Don't." Wind Runner smiled, the
action in no way belying his deadly intent. "And, yes, I'll skewer you
without a second thought. I think you'll thank me for this one of these
days."

 
          
 
"I thought you were my friend."

 
          
 
"I am. But sometimes a friend has to do
more than sit back like a raven on a stump. Something's happened to you over
the last couple of summers. You've been changing, spending too much time in
your head. You were about to make a fool of yourself, and I couldn't call
myself a friend and let you do it."

 
          
 
Their gazes locked, hot, bristling. White Ash
watched them, paralyzed by the intensity of the moment. Like two opposing
forces—light and dark, or water and fire—they faced off. Wind Runner, the man
she'd come to love for his kindness and calm manner, poised to kill Brave Man,
the frightening young warrior whose exploits had saved the White Clay more than
once. Driven by the voices that now whispered in his mind, Brave Man was deadly
in combat, wily in the hunt.

 
          
 
Brave Man broke, crashing off through the
willows, feet thumping the earth as he ran. Wind Runner sucked a deep breath as
he stared after him.

 
          
 
White Ash began to shake. She leaned against a
cotton-wood trunk to brace herself, rubbing nervous hands along her arms.
"You have no idea of how glad I am to see you."

 
          
 
"You have no idea of how glad I am that
he ran off!"

 
          
 
She grinned at him then, still weak-kneed.
"Why are you here?"

 
          
 
Wind Runner blushed slightly, lowering his
eyes. "Because I love you . . . and wouldn't see you hurt."

 
          
 
She pinned him with her startled gaze, lifting
a hand to her mouth. "What?" Love me? Is it true? Could it be? Too
many times in the recent past she'd caught herself watching him, staying near
in the hope that he'd smile at her, or laugh with her over some trifling thing.
Now her soul stirred, happiness seeking to supplant the terror inspired by
Brave Man.

 
          
 
He smiled shyly and looked up at the yellowing
leaves overhead. "You heard me. I love you. And I can't have you. You're
my father's brother's daughter. It would be incest."

 
          
 
She blinked. "But I'm not White
Clay!"

 
          
 
He lifted a desultory shoulder. "I know.
But it's still incest to the White Clay. You're just like my sister. A sister
and brother don't marry, don't couple."

 
          
 
"But I wasn't born White Clay!"

 
          
 
"Are you trying to talk me into something
I might regret?"

 
          
 
She gasped and shook her head. "No. I was
... I mean, I . . ."He winked at her then, a mischievous twinkle in his
eyes. A warm illumination, like a shaft of light, shot through her. Her pulse
quickened.

 
          
 
"Come on, let's get you back to Sage
Ghost before my foolish friend loses all of his senses again." Then, under
his breath, he added, "Or I do."

 
          
 
"Don't, not now. Not after what Brave Man
just tried to do. I couldn't . . . wouldn't want it that way. Not with the fear
and disgust so fresh in my mind."

           
 
He turned, eyes wide, mouth coming open as his
color drained. "White Ash, please, never tempt me. It would be disastrous
for both of us. Think about what people would say. Think about how it would
affect the Power. Incest . . ." He winced. "Nothing is as terrible as
that. Nothing. As much as I love you, I couldn't. It would destroy us."

 
          
 
He looked away then, head bowed. "Maybe
it's a terrible joke, some temptation by Power that makes me love what I can't
have as long as I'm White Clay." He shook his head before turning back to
her, features haunted. "And I have driven a final thorn between Brave Man
and myself. Why did this have to happen? What's gone wrong with the Power of
the White Clay? The two people left to me to love are denied me. The laws of
the People keep you from me. And the voices in Brave Man's head—whatever kind
of Power they are—have removed him from my life."

BOOK: People of the Earth
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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