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Authors: W. Michael Gear

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

People of the Earth (58 page)

BOOK: People of the Earth
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Some grunts of assent were heard as Fire
Rabbit seated himself.

 
          
 
One Man cleared his throat. "Under other
circumstances, I would agree with my friend Fire Rabbit. This time I
cannot."

 
          
 
'Then what do we do?" Fire Rabbit
demanded. "Sit here and talk and watch our land disappear?" He looked
around, searching the faces of the people. He reached out, as if to embrace
them, and turned his head up to the lazy sky and the rustling cottonwoods.
"Do we give this up?"

 
          
 
Black Moon's wife, Makes Room, stood and
looked around. Her fifty winters could be read in her lined face. She worked
her mouth, running her tongue over gaps where teeth had fallen out. She wore a
smoke-tanned elk-hide dress, resplendent with elk ivories that gleamed white in
the sun. A pattern of
olivella
shells decorated the
neckline.

 
          
 
She sighed heavily and shook her head. "I
hear these words . . . and my heart turns cold. We are faced with a problem
none of us ever expected. The clans have always fought among themselves, but it
was done to keep our blood strong."

 
          
 
She squinted around the circle, turning on her
stiff ankles. "Things have changed in the last couple of years. We broke
the White Clay. When we did it, we knew we had to have new hunting grounds. At
the time, I remember, our warriors whooped and Danced to celebrate their
strength. At the time, I Sang the praises of the Black Point, too, but my heart
was troubled. In all the legends of the People, clans never suffered the fate
the White Clay did. Some clans merged, others split off and made new clans—the
way the Black Point broke away from the Wasp in the times before my grandfather
lived. But it troubled me that we ravaged the White Clay. My mother was White
Clay.

 
          
 
"Now I hear the stories told by Wind
Runner of the White Clay being chased and raided by the Wolf People. In the old
days, no clan of the Sun People feared others. When we wanted the land from the
Dangerous
River
south to the Fat Beaver, we chased those
White Bird People off the land. Chased them clear off to the east, across the
Short Grass Plains. Maybe they told the Wolf People to fight us—they were
related once, according to their legends. We can probably chase the Wolf People
away, too."

 
          
 
She cocked her head. "Now something is
happening. We've always moved south. We’ve changed from hunting seals and musk
ox to caribou to buffalo. We've come so far south that we no longer see
caribou—and moose are only found north of here. Now we hunt elk and antelope
when buffalo are scarce. I know where we came from, but we did it through
generations. Today I hear that even the Green Stone are moving south. Not just
changing camps, but maybe moving south for good. Everything has changed.
Myself, I've lived through a lot of raiding, but I've never seen or heard of
entire clans forced over long distances."

 
          
 
She rubbed her nose and coughed. 4 Tm getting
to be an old woman. I don't want to have to run like a winter-starved coyote
the way the White Clay did. As I see it, we have three choices. Stay and try to
fight all the clans. Go east and try to drive the Broken Stones out of their
country. Or travel south and cross these
Sideways
Mountains
. Of all the choices, I think south makes
the most sense. I say this because that's the way we've always gone."

 
          
 
The bones in Makes Room's body crackled as she
sat down.

 
          
 
Black Moon turned to Wind Runner. "What
about the south?"

 
          
 
Wind Runner stood, staring around the council.
People watched him with curiosity and respect. The stories had circulated about
his challenge to One Man, about the trap he'd laid for the Broken Stones, and
his daring walk through the middle of a Hollow Flute war camp.

           
 
He braced his feet. "South, beyond those
ridges, lie the
Sideways
Mountains
. Beyond them is the basin the Traders have
told us about . . . where the Earth People live.

 
          
 
"My own advice is that we go there. My
father's brother captured a ..." He smiled wistfully, and no one seemed to
mind the slip. "Let me start again. When I lived among the White Clay,
Sage Ghost stole a girl from the Earth People. She told me how the Earth People
live. They have more than enough to eat, but they live differently than we do.
I tell you that we can move south, into that territory, and make a place for
ourselves."

 
          
 
He frowned. "We have a choice to make.
It's a painful choice, and one that perhaps only I can speak of, since I've
lived it. We are all Sun People. When we make war on the other clans, we make
war on our own people. Makes Room spoke with Power when she said that what
happened to the White Clay left her uneasy."

 
          
 
He looked around, spreading his arms as he
appealed to his listeners. "If we go south, we'll have to do things
differently. I've been told that the game doesn't travel in big herds. I've
heard that most of the people down there eat foods made from plants. We know
that; we've Traded for those things. Myself, I don't like the idea of changing
the way we live. At the same time, I can remember when I could look out and see
tens of tens of White Clay lodges—and see so many faces, I didn't know them
all. If we fight the Hollow Flute—and destroy them—and fight the combined clans
of the Snow Bird and Wasp and drive them back north, how many faces will be
missing from this circle? Look around you. When I left the White Clay, there
were five tens of people left. There-"

 
          
 
"Not anymore!" a voice called from
the edge of the camp.

 
          
 
Wind Runner craned his neck, staring. A lone
man walked out from among the lodges, followed by a sniffing pack of dogs. Wind
Runner knew that walk, recognized the muscular shoulders that swayed with each
step.

 
          
 
"Sage Ghost?" Wind Runner whispered
in disbelief.

 
          
 
People moved out of Sage Ghost's way as he
stepped into the circle. A rapid muttering rose from all sides.

           
 
Bearing darts and
atlatl
in one hand, Sage Ghost walked up to Wind Runner. He stopped, eyes watering,
lips quivering. Then he reached out and Wind Runner stepped into his embrace,
hugging him tightly to his breast.

 
          
 
"What are you doing here?" Wind
Runner asked, holding his uncle at arm's length to study him. Sage Ghost's
clothing was a ripped and tattered mass of worn leather. He'd lost
weight—become a gaunt and ragged shadow of the man he'd once been. But a hard
pride glittered behind those enduring brown eyes.

 
          
 
Sage Ghost's face worked painfully. "I
didn't have anywhere else to go," he whispered, blinking against the
tears. "The White Clay are . . . are gone."

 
          
 
"Gone? What do you mean, gone?"

 
          
 
"Dead," he answered flatly.
"Killed. Wiped out by the Wolf People." He made the hand sign for
"no more."

 
          
 
Whispers of surprise and disbelief ran through
the Black Point. They shifted and strained to hear better.

 
          
 
Black Moon stepped forward and pinned Sage
Ghost with a wary look. "You come bearing weapons."

 
          
 
Sage Ghost nodded. "It's good to see you
again, Black Moon. After the Black Point attacked us on the Fat Beaver, I never
thought I'd live to hear myself say that. But, yes, I have come carrying
weapons. I didn't know if my nephew was still alive." The
atlatl
and darts clattered to the ground. Sage Ghost
swallowed hard and looked up at the Black Point leader. "Had he been
killed in the challenge, I would have come to fight. Not to challenge ... but
to die as the last White Clay."

 
          
 
Black Moon took a deep breath and looked
around at the circle of people. "I heard you say the White Clay are
dead-"

 
          
 
"White Ash!" Wind Runner blurted,
grabbing Sage Ghost by the shoulders. His heart hammered and a curious weakness
grew in his knees.

 
          
 
Sage Ghost hung his head. "I don't know.
She got away when the Wolf People raided the camp. I know they didn't take her,
but they captured some of the others—the young women who could still bear
children."

           
 
"But where . . ."

 
          
 
“I don't know." Sage Ghost reached up to
rub his face. “I crossed the
Sideways
Mountains
, went to Three Forks and watched. I thought
maybe . . . well, with the White Clay killed, she might have gone back to the
Earth People. I never saw her there."

 
          
 
A swirling emptiness—as if he'd been
gutted—-swept through Wind Runner. The world seemed to dim and the color washed
from the leaves and sky and buff mesas. “When?" he croaked.

 
          
 
“The morning after you left for the Black
Point." Sage Ghost lifted his gaze to the wind-teased branches overhead. “I
was up there that night—hidden in the rocks. I just wanted to be alone, to
think about Bright Moon and to cry in private. I saw you climb the ridge, heard
your talk with White Ash. I watched you go . . . and walked off afterwards to
think. I walked until dawn, and started back to camp. I heard the screams. By
then it was too late for me to do anything. Instead, I hid in the rocks and
watched the Wolf People burn the last of the lodges. I checked the dead after
they left and couldn't find her. Then I circled and followed the Wolf People.
White Ash wasn't among the captives they'd taken. I went back and spied upon
the camp before sneaking down to look one more time for White Ash's body. Brave
Man was there, walking among the bodies."

 
          
 
“He's got her!"

 
          
 
“No." Sage Ghost shook his head. “But he,
too, was looking for her. After Brave Man left, it started to snow. I went into
the camp and looked at the bodies. She wasn't there. I took up Brave Man's
tracks to be sure he hadn't carried her away, and followed him for a day."
He took a deep breath. “He was headed for the Broken Stones—as he said he
would. That's when I turned south and scouted the Earth People."

 
          
 
“Then where is she?" Wind Runner asked,
stunned.

 
          
 
Sage Ghost knotted his bony fists. “I don't
know. I just don't know."

 
          
 
Wind Runner struggled to control his building
sense of despair.

           
 
Sage Ghost shifted his gaze to Black Moon.
"What will you do with me?"

 
          
 
Black Moon studied Sage Ghost thoughtfully,
noting his tattered clothing, reading the lines in his face. "You said
your clan was dead."

 
          
 
Sage Ghost chuckled—the sound gruesome for its
lack of amusement. "Everything I ever was ... or loved, is dead"— he
pointed to Wind Runner—"except this young man."

 
          
 
Hot Fat appeared next to Black Moon.
"Then you wish to become Black Point?"

 
          
 
Sage Ghost shook his head slowly. "No,
Soul Flier. I am the last of the White Clay. I will die the last of the White
Clay."

BOOK: People of the Earth
12.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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