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Authors: Don Coldsmith

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BOOK: Raven Mocker
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6

L
og Roller, the War Chief, sucked thoughtfully at his pipe and wondered what the approaching duo might want. He hoped that it wouldn’t be anything of great importance. Things had been quiet for a long time, and he had no desire to have it otherwise. There had been a time when he relished excitement, but he had been younger then. Now he much preferred the quiet stability of a peaceful town. His was the best of both ways—the prestige of his office and the solid reassurance that nothing much ever happened around Old Town. Travelers more often used the road through Keowee, the town to the north, and Old Town had become almost isolated in its following of the old ways. There were occasional traders who stopped by. Enough to supply their needs and to bring news of the outside world. He had not even been over to Keowee for several years. He liked it this way.

There was a sense of foreboding about the two men who approached his house. Log Roller had a bad feeling about this. He knew these men, of course, Red Dog and Hominy, the latter known for his ability to eat the staple food that gave him his name. The looks on their faces suggested that it was a very serious matter that had brought them here.

“Osiyo,”
said Red Dog by way of greeting. “May we talk with you?”

“Siyo,” answered Log Roller. “Of course. Want a smoke?”

Without waiting for an answer he knocked the ashes from the pipe and refilled it, as the two visitors settled themselves. He called inside, and his wife brought a burning stick, nodding pleasantly at the visitors. Log Roller took the light and applied it to the fresh tobacco, handing the stick back when the task was accomplished. After a few puffs he handed the pipe to Hominy, who took a few puffs. Hominy passed it on to Red Dog as indicated by its owner’s lazy gesture.

When this informal ritual of hospitality had been completed and the pipe returned to Log Roller, he cleared his throat.

“You wish to talk?”

“Yes,” said Red Dog. “There is a problem in Old Town.”

Log Roller was greatly relieved. Dog had plainly said
in Old Town.
That would clearly make it a matter concerning not the War Chief, but the Peace Chief. But he must hear the rest.

“It may be,” he said thoughtfully, “that if it concerns only the town, it would be in the responsibility of Three Fingers, the Peace Chief. His is the concern of matters
in
the town or among the townspeople. Mine is in dealing with others. Outsiders.”

“We understand,” said Red Dog, “but we were made to think we should talk to both.”

“What is it, then?” asked Log Roller, perhaps more irritably than he had intended.

“You remember the story of the Raven Mocker?” asked Hominy.

“Of course. He cheated the Raven, the carrion bird, in the Creation story, by not dying. Only a story, no?”

“Well… ” said Hominy.

“Maybe,” said Red Dog, “but this is our problem: My wife, and the wife of Hominy, here, say that the women are talking. There may be a Raven Mocker here.”

“Here? In Old Town?” asked Log Roller.

“Yes, so they say.”

“But—but
who?
How do they know?”

“Snakewater,” said Red Dog. “The medicine woman.”

Log Roller’s first inclination was to laugh, but he saw that the men were serious.

“Think about it,” said Hominy. “Nobody even knows how old she is. She just goes on and on. And she has been present at many deaths.”

“Well, so have I,” observed Log Roller. “Does that make
me
a Raven Mocker?”

Both of his visitors appeared very uncomfortable.

“The women have talked much about this,” said Hominy.

“What clan?” asked Log Roller

“Mine, Bird Clan,” said Red Dog. “Hominy’s, Deer. Both have talked of it.”

Log Roller nodded. “And mine, Wolf Clan.” He raised his voice to call through the doorway. “Cat, are the women in your clan talking about the Raven Mocker?”

“Well, I heard something,” she answered, coming to the door. “I did not pay much attention. Foolish girl-talk, I supposed.”

Log Roller nodded.
“Wado
, Cat.” She turned away and addressed the other men. “So …the women of at least three clans talk of it.”

“Maybe others,” added Hominy.

“It seems likely,” said the War Chief. “What is Snakewater’s clan? Does anyone know?”

There was silence for a little while, and then Cat spoke from inside the house.

“Paint, I think. No one seems to know for sure.”

So
, thought her husband, the
Wolf Clan women have talked of it more than we realized.

“But it would still seem to be a matter for Three Fingers, the Peace Chief,” he said. “It is within the town.”

“Well,” said Red Dog, “you should know that someone tried to kill her. Put a rattlesnake in her house.”

“Who?”

“I am not at liberty to say,” said Red Dog smugly.

“Is this true?” Log Roller asked Hominy.

“I heard it too.”

“A clumsy effort,” Log Roller observed. “Not successful, I assume.”

“That is true.”

“Nevertheless, it would seem to be Three Finger’s problem.”

With that he rose and went inside. The interview was over.

P
rivately he wondered much more seriously about this. How could it be decided? Could it be proved that the person in question was actually a Raven Mocker? Even if so, what could be done? He knew of no rule or law that would apply. It would be up to the Council anyway.

Yes, that would be the logical sequence. A hearing before the populace of Old Town.

He still thought that the one to call for a council should be the Peace Chief. Well, he would talk to Three Fingers and offer his help in any way that he legitimately could.

“Y
ou talked with the young men?” Log Roller asked conversationally.

He had gone to see his friend Three Fingers, and the two had exchanged greetings and smoked. Now the pipe was finished and it was time to talk.

Three Fingers sighed deeply. “Yes, my friend. My heart is heavy. They said that they had been to talk with you.”

“Yes,” replied Log Roller. “I told them that it was in your area of concern.”

“That is true, much to my regret.”

The two men chuckled.

“I also told them,” Log Roller went on, “that I would talk with you and help in any way I can.”

“Wado.
It is good. Of course, it is the women who will decide. But for the hearing, we should both be there. And, my friend, I do appreciate your support.”

“It is nothing …. You would do the same for me.”

“Do you know the clan of old Snakewater?” asked Three Fingers.

He had refilled his pipe and was tamping the tobacco
mixture with one of the stub fingers that gave him his name. That accident had taken place long ago in his youth, as he was loading his musket. The ramrod had never been found.

“Those young men asked about that,” Log Roller answered. “I was thinking Paint Clan, maybe. She was older than I, by several seasons. She was called Corn Flower, as I recall. Her mother died, and her father remarried. That wife was Deer Clan, I’m almost certain. But the girl, she who is called Snakewater now, was something else. I remember my parents talking of it. That was one of the differences between the girl and her stepmother. Her father had to move to the other clan.”

Three Fingers nodded sadly. “Too bad. I don’t remember any of this.”

“You were just enough younger not to understand.”

“You think she is Paint Clan, you said?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know whether she attends clan functions at all,” said Log Roller.

“Probably not. She has never married, so she had no potential husband to be considered by her clan,” Three Fingers said.

“Well, the old women will know. I am made to think that this will be mostly their decision anyway. If it seems that there is any need for action, that is.”

“I would think so,” Three Fingers agreed. “An open hearing before the council, to determine whether there is an offense?”

“That’s how I do it. There may not
be
one. Even if there is, it could probably be handled within her clan, don’t you think?

“My thinking, also,” said Three Fingers. “Even if the Council agrees that someone has been wronged, it could be worked out between the two clans. Her clan would carry out whatever action is decided.”

“Good thinking, Fingers,” chuckled Log Roller. “I hope it works out that way.”

“But what if it seems to be that old Snakewater
is
a
Raven Mocker?” asked Three Fingers. “Is there any action that should be taken, or must be?”

“I don’t know,” answered Log Roller thoughtfully. “I can’t remember when this might have come up before, in the entire Cherokee Nation. Surely we would have heard.”

“One would think so. Maybe we could inquire of other towns.”

“Maybe. Let us call the Council first, though, to see if we need to go farther. And a decision could be deferred, of course.”

“Yes, that’s a possibility,” agreed Three Fingers. “Well, I’m hoping it can be handled at the clan level. But if worse comes to worst, I wonder if the Council could banish her?”

There was a long silence. Both men realized that they had been avoiding any specific possibilities.

“That could be dangerous,” Log Roller observed. “Especially if she really is a Raven Mocker. We don’t know
what
powers she has. And would it be within our laws?”

“I don’t know. But first we must call the Council, no?”

“Yes, but let’s wait a few days, try to learn all we can about how this started. We should talk to the young men who came to us. Red Dog and Hominy, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. And, as much as it pains me to say it, I fear that I, as Peace Chief, must be the one to call for the Council. It is a matter for Old Town, not for the War Chief. Let me inquire a little further. I will talk to you again before announcing the call to Council. Let me know if you learn anything.”

“It is good,” said Log Roller as he rose to depart, then he chuckled. “Well, not really. The
plan
is good. Not the situation.”

The Peace Chief smiled wryly. “Easy for you to say! But thank you again for your support, my friend. I will probably need it.”

7

S
nakewater knew that there was something going on. There was a feeling of excitement in the air. For some time she was inclined to attribute it to the season. Warm days, cool nights, the “second summer.” There had been a hint of frost a few days ago. Not a hard freeze, merely a rim of white along the edge of the river as they went to water.

The geese were passing overhead, high in the clear blue …. Shining white lines of the birds made a yelping sound like a myriad of small dogs, as they headed south for the winter. She wondered where. She had always wondered that. It stirred a restlessness in her, and for some time she thought that the subdued excitement in the town was the same reaction in others.

Odd, she thought,
they have never seemed to feel it before.

Her questioning was partly answered by a conversation heard through the fence. It had been several days since the young girls had come to their secret place to hide, play, and visit. Snakewater had been dozing in the sun and was wakened by the voices.

“ … and my mother says there will be a Council soon,” one was saying.

Her nap interrupted, Snakewater almost drifted back into sleep. It was of no concern to her whether the chiefs called a Council. She seldom attended anyway. They would do what they decided. She knew that there was no major
threat to the town from outside. If there were, she’d have heard, because there would have been much more excitement. That meant that it was some problem
within
the town. Maybe somebody wanted to marry, and the clan structure prohibited it, because a man must marry into a clan not his own …. Some other technicality. Such things were usually evaluated and decided by the women of the two clans involved. Never having been through a courtship, Snakewater had no such experience, the seeking of approval for the marriage. It might have been interesting. She wondered how it would have felt to be with a man. She used to dream sometimes, and that was good. Her body’s call to such contact was fainter and more seldom now.

She wondered, too, how it might have been to bear a child, to hold and rock it and put it to breast. She loved children but had seldom had opportunity to hold one. Even then it was always because it was sick, and she picked it up as part of her ceremony. If it had been different, if her ties to family had been better, she could have held the babies of her sisters. But she hardly knew them, because of the enmity of their mother. And of course, they were of a different clan. Deer Clan, as nearly as she could remember. Her own was Paint Clan. It mattered little now. She drifted back to sleep.

I
t was a day or two later, as she returned from gathering wood for her cooking fire, that a man approached. His manner was serious, and it was apparent that he was seeking to talk to her. She recognized Three Fingers, the Peace Chief. She was glad to see him. It had been some time since anyone had requested her services. It was seldom, in fact, that she’d had to gather her own fuel. Those who had successfully sought her help kept her supplied. But not now.


Osiyo!
How can I help you?” she asked cheerfully.

There was a troubled look on his face. What could it be? Three Fingers appeared healthy enough. Maybe his wife was ill, or one of his children, although they were all grown. At least, she thought so.

“You are Snakewater, of the Paint Clan?” he asked formally, without changing his stern expression.

“Of course,” she answered, puzzled. “Once called Corn Flower when I was young. But you know that, Three Fingers. How may I help you?”

“It is not that,” he said formally. “You are requested at a Council tomorrow at the town house. You must attend.”

“But… what… ?”she stammered, confused.

Now the expression on the face of the Peace Chief relaxed somewhat, to be replaced by one of genuine concern.

“My heart is heavy over this, Snakewater. You have been accused.”

“Of
what?”
she demanded. “I have done no crime.”

“It is not that,” he said. “This is a most unusual thing. Snakewater, are you a Raven Mocker?”

There was a hint of fear in his eyes, as if she might become violent, or try to forcibly seize his unused life-years on the spot.

“How could I be?” she demanded. “Three Fingers, you have known me since you were a child. Since before you
lost
those fingers. I helped you with the healing of them!”

“That is true,” he said uncomfortably. “But it is the duty of my office to… Well, you know ….”he finished lamely.

She almost felt sorrow for the man. “Do
you
think that of me?” she insisted.

“I—I don’t know what to think, Snakewater. I know very little of your medicine, and nothing of the Raven Mocker, except as part of the Creation story.”

“Who has brought this complaint?”

“I cannot tell you. You will learn at the Council.”

“Is this not unusual?” she asked.

“Yes, the whole thing is unusual.”

She became defiant. “And what is the procedure to deal with one who is a Raven Mocker?” she demanded. “And how would you know?”

“I am not your accuser, Snakewater. As to what happens… that is why we have the council. A request has been made, a complaint stated.”

“It is ridiculous,” she sputtered. “What if I refuse to attend?”

“Then men of the warrior society would be sent to bring you.”

“How many would it take, to drag a poor old woman?” she taunted.

Three Fingers sighed deeply. “Don’t be this way, Snake-water. Listen to her complaint, answer it …. That may be all.”

“Ah! A woman! Does she think I would steal her husband, and she wishes to get me out of the way?” she sneered. Then she relented. “Well, I will be there. I would not dignify such stupidity by making a big thing of it. In public, of course.”

“Of course.
Wado
, I thank you, Snakewater.”

He started away and then turned. “There are many,” he said haltingly, “who consider you a fine woman. I want you to know that I am one of them. This will pass.”

She watched him go. She was not so certain.

“I don’t know,” she said, half aloud. “What do you think, Lumpy?”

T
he town fairly sizzled with excitement, as the people began to gather at the town house. Its unique seven-sided architecture was for a purpose. Each clan held an official position around its own section of the wall. Sometimes there was a fire in the center, vented through a smoke hole in the roof, but not today. It was warm and sunny, and the opening cast light instead. There was a shaft of sunlight that shone almost in the corner between the Wolf and Bird clans.

Snakewater arrived and smiled at the women of her Paint Clan. She knew most of them but had seldom sat with them in council. Still, if a verdict ensued that called for some penalty to be meted out, these were the women who would administer and oversee it.

I’m getting ahead of myself here
, she thought, as she took her seat.

There was little formality. Three Fingers quieted the
crowd and opened the meeting. Log Roller sat near, in his designated seat as war chief. Something might develop that called for his opinion, though it seemed unlikely.

“We are gathered to hear a complaint,” Three Fingers began. “I am sure that you all know what it’s about. Who brings the complaint?”

“I
do!” said a woman in the section reserved for the Long Hair Clan.
“There is among us a Raven Mocker.”

A few gasps indicated that not everyone in the town was aware of the topic under discussion.

“And who… Please state your name, and that of him whom you accuse.”

“Not
him
, but
her!”
The woman pointed to Snakewater.

“Your
name,” persisted Three Fingers. He wanted no misunderstanding.

“Spotted Bird,” the woman retorted. “This woman stole the life-years of my baby.”

Snakewater remembered her now. A tragic death… She had felt it deeply herself …. A beautiful child. Only a few moons old, dying, lungs filling, and coughing with no effect. She could well remember the look of panic in the child’s eyes. She had even tried to breathe the life back into the tiny chest.

Spotted Bird was talking “… and I
saw
her suck the life from my daughter’s nose and mouth,” she finished.

“I tried to
save
her!” protested Snakewater.

There were several derisive hoots from the crowd.

“She was present at my brother’s death!” shouted another woman.

“He was killed by a bear!” Snakewater answered indignantly.

Three Fingers quieted the crowd and spoke firmly.

“Let us be reasonable,” he insisted. “Snakewater has been present at many deaths. She has been asked there because of her medicine, is it not so? Now, let me ask you… How many are
alive
today because of the powerful medicine of this woman?”

There was a moment of stunned silence.

“I
am!”
called a burly warrior.

“And I!” added a young woman.

There was a ripple of agreement.

“So …?” said Three Fingers in mock surprise. “It seems we can prove little here. And let us think on this: No matter how powerful a medicine may be, eventually it fails. Otherwise everyone would live forever, no?”

Silence was heavy in the town house for a moment. Then…

“Except for the Raven Mocker, who
does
live forever!” called Spotted Bird, the complainant.

“Wait!” said another woman. “That is only a story, like that of the Giant Leech, to frighten children into obedience.”

“How do you know? Are you
sure?”
asked someone.

There was a babble of voices, and the Peace Chief was forced to quiet the crowd again.

“This is going nowhere,” he stated firmly. “I have heard nothing but opinions. Let me ask: Does anyone have any
proof
, one way or another?”

There was silence, and he continued quickly, before anyone could break the ribbon of this line of thought.

“Does anyone have any proof that the Raven Mocker is more than a story?”

Again there was silence.

“Let us think on this, then,” said Three Fingers. “Let us consider, and meet again in seven days. That will give us time to seek visions for guidance. It is good to sleep on such matters. And one other thing: For most problems we have solutions. Laws. It is the way of the Real People. Does anyone know of any precedent here? Did anyone ever hear of how a Raven Mocker case was handled? Did we ever
hear
of a real Raven Mocker?”

In the ensuing silence one voice was heard. It was quiet, but effective.

“Not until now!”

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