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Authors: Don Coldsmith

The Changing Wind

BOOK: The Changing Wind
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STRONG MEDICINE

A flash of motion caught Small Elk’s eye, and he turned curiously…
Aiee!
Here was a thing he had not foreseen. A wolf, one of the gray ghosts that follow the herds, was creeping through the short grass.

He had suddenly become the quarry. He must do something quickly. The hunter was so close that he could see the glitter of the yellow eyes as it crept forward on its belly. Any moment now, it would make its rush.

Then the idea came. He was pretending to be a calf… what would a calf do? There was no time to stop and consider. He raised his head toward the herd, let out a bleat of terror and began to scramble away.

Suddenly, six or seven cows charged forward. He turned toward the wolf, who now seemed confused. The cows thundered past Elk on each side, brushing close and kicking up dirt, but avoiding injury to him.

The wolf retreated.

“Aiee!”
greeted his father, White Buffalo, his eyes bright with excitement. “You have done well. You will be a great medicine man!”

Books by Don Coldsmith

TRAIL OF THE SPANISH BIT

SONG OF THE ROCK

BRIDE OF THE MORNING STAR

WALKS IN THE SUN

TRACK OF THE BEAR

THE CHANGING WIND

RIVERS WEST: THE SMOKY HILL

RUNESTONE

BEARER OF THE PIPE

MEDICINE HAT

TALL GRASS

SOUTH WIND

Introduction

A
year or two after the release of
Trail of the Spanish Bit
, one of my students approached me with a suggestion. Why not, she asked, write in more depth about the life and career of White Buffalo, the medicine man? This character appears only briefly in the first few books of the Spanish Bit Saga.

I considered at some length. In many ways, this man represents a pivotal character in one of the greatest cultural changes in the human race. His life spans the entire time period of this cultural change. The Stone Age hunter of the plains and mountains evolved, in a single generation, into the finest light cavalry the world has ever seen. The factor that made the difference was the acquisition of the horse. This must have been not only a profound change, but a major threat, to one in the priestly function of White Buffalo, holy man of the People. I tried to imagine his feelings, his thoughts and fears. I wrote a few chapters and a brief outline but then became preoccupied with other projects and shelved the idea.

In 1987, Greg Tobin, a senior editor at Bantam, suggested a spin-off novel to supplement the Spanish Bit Saga. Would it be possible, he asked, to select minor characters from the early series for an original novel, a “superedition,” connected to but not a part of the series? I mailed a proposal the following day, with the material I had outlined.

So this is the story of one man’s lifetime. We see him at first resist, then accept, and finally take part in the cultural shift. It will alter his civilization forever as the winds of change sweep across the prairie and the People advance into the centuries that mark the Golden Age of the Horse.

—Don Goldsmith
1989

Part I
The Vision
1

T
here was little about the childhood of Small Elk that foretold his place in the story of the People. Perhaps his mother, Dove Woman, anticipated that her son was destined for greatness, but such expectations are regarded as a mother’s privilege. However, his father also suspected that here was a child with an unusual mission.

The two older children of Dove Woman and White Buffalo had grown, married, and had their own lodges before the coming of Small Elk to the lodge of the medicine man. That alone set him apart, but there were other things that his father noticed. There was his curiosity. The child would sit for long spaces of time, watching a column of ants going in and out of their underground lodge. There were those in the tribe, White Buffalo knew, who would regard this as useless activity. And, he had to admit, for some it may have been. But not for Small Elk. There was something about the
way the
child watched the creatures. His father was certain that Small Elk
understood
the apparently aimless scurrying around the anthill. He did not say so, but there was a look of wonder on the small face, the wonder of learning. White Buffalo saw in the shining dark eyes an understanding of the spirit of the ants.

It was, in a way, like the understanding that had been in the eyes of the infant the day of his birth. White Buffalo had seen many infants. Most were squalling in protest at the indignity of having been thrust from the warm and protective lodge which had been theirs for the past nine moons. True, it was a rude shock to enter a world that included cold and hunger. But occasionally there would be an infant whose approach to life seemed different. And this was such an infant. After the preliminary protest, and the cough to clear newly expanded lungs, this child was quiet.

The woman who had assisted Dove Woman with the birth had lifted the lodgeflap to allow the father to enter and see his son. White Buffalo paused a moment, allowing his eyes to become accustomed to the dim interior of the lodge. He smiled at his wife.

“Our son is here,” Dove Woman said softly.

“It is well with you?” he asked.

“Of course. Come, look at him.”

She lifted the corner of the robe that covered her. White Buffalo knelt and looked into the small red face. It was only then that he felt the impact of the tiny newcomer. The eyes, which in most infants are squinted tightly shut against the new experience of light and air, were wide open. They looked around the lodge and then directly into his own with a shocking intensity that startled White Buffalo.

It must be remembered that White Buffalo was no ordinary man. His medicine was considered strong, his vision accurate. His contact with things of the spirit was an ongoing vibrant thing. Even so, it was with something of a shock that he looked into the dark eyes of this newborn child. There was knowledge there, and an interest, a curiosity, that burned brightly in those eyes. Unaccountably, White Buffalo felt for an instant that he was the one under scrutiny, not the child. This small one seemed to already possess an understanding of the nature of the world and a desire to learn more about it.

“This is a strong spirit,” he told his wife.

“Of course”—Dove Woman smiled. “He is ours, yours and mine.”

White Buffalo nodded, still entranced by the strange feeling of communication he had had for a moment. The moment had passed now.

“Let us call him Small Elk,” Dove Woman suggested.

White Buffalo knew that this was because of their experience the evening before. It was exceptionally fine weather, early in the Moon of Roses, and they had walked a little way from the lodges to be alone and enjoy the setting of the sun. Dove Woman had grown large and was impatient to bring forth her child. It was pleasant to walk with her husband and to admire the lavish colors of the western sky.

“Sun Boy chooses his paints well this evening,” she observed.

“Yes,” her husband agreed.

After all their years together, there was little need for talk. They communicated without it, each understanding what the other felt. This evening they were comfortable with each other and with the world. It was a time of waiting, of wondering about the new life in Dove Woman’s belly.

“Oh, look,” she exclaimed suddenly, pointing to an area near the stream.

A cow elk had come down to the water to drink. She raised her head and sniffed the breeze, catching the scent of the couple who watched. They were near enough to see the droplets of water that dribbled down the animal’s lower lip. The cow fidgeted, uneasy but undecided.

It was unusual for elk to approach the village this closely. The cow was in no danger at this time, but she could hardly know that. The People had hunted well, with the greening of the prairie. White Buffalo had selected the time for the annual burning of the prairie to remove the winter’s dead grass. The buffalo had appeared as expected, in the Moon of Greening. The spring hunt had been successful enough to add prestige to White Buffalo’s reputation and respect for the power of his medicine, successful enough that there would be no interest in killing a thin cow elk during the calving season.

The cow turned nervously, sensing something wrong, and finally sprang away, clattering across the white gravel of the riffle toward the other bank. Only then, as she turned and made a quiet lowing sound over her shoulder, did they see the calf. It came scrambling up out of the tall grass beside the stream, a confused scramble of long legs, knobby knees, and floppy ears.

The mother paused to wait while the calf stumbled after her through the shallows. They quickly disappeared in the willows across the creek, and Dove Woman laughed softly.

“It is a sign, my husband.”

“Your time is near?”

“Maybe so.”

She smiled and leaned against him.

Looking into the face of his son the following day, White Buffalo realized that the incident by the stream
had
been
significant. Dove Woman had felt it too and had chosen his name. He nodded in agreement.

BOOK: The Changing Wind
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