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Authors: Don Coldsmith

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BOOK: The Changing Wind
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10

I
t was early in the Moon of Greening when the traveler stopped at the winter camp of the Northern band. He inquired as to the location of the lodge of the chief, so that he might pay his respects according to proper protocol. There he visited, exchanging small talk about the weather, the mild winter just past, and the season to come.

He was traveling somewhat earlier than usual, the stranger said, to join the Eastern band before they broke winter camp. There was a girl there whom he had met at last year’s Sun Dance. He had been unable to dismiss his constant thoughts of her and with favorable weather, had left his own Red Rocks band far to the southwest to go to her.

The old chief smiled. Ah, young romance! This young man had undertaken a dangerous journey in winter. But he had survived, and such a romantic effort would certainly impress the young woman of the Eastern band. Actually, the foolhardy journey would probably seem quite appropriate to the Eastern band. They had always had a reputation for foolish ways.

“And where did you winter?” the chief asked.

“I traveled some. I spent part of the Moon of Snows and the Moon of Hunger with the Southern band. Of course, I supplied my own food.”

The chief nodded.

“And now you travel on?”

“Yes, my chief. I bear greetings from Broken Horn. He says they will meet you at the Sun Dance. Oh, yes… is there a young man, Small Elk, staying with your band? His parents wished me to bring him greetings. He stays here in the lodge of White Antelope?”

“Yes, of course. He is with his grandparents. He
wintered with us, you know. Is there any other news of the Southern band?”

“No, I… yes! Their weaponsmaker is dead. Stone Breaker. He gave his name away. He was very old, I heard.”

“Yes. A good man.”

The traveler left the chief’s lodge to seek the lodge of Small Elk’s grandparents. There he was welcomed as a long-lost relative since he brought greetings and news from White Buffalo and Dove Woman.

“Aiee
, come inside, young man,” Fox Woman invited. “Tell us everything.”

“Thank you, Grandmother.”

He sat and carefully related all the details he could recall while Fox Woman prepared food.

“That is all I remember,” he said finally. “They and their other children are well. They sent special greetings to their son.”

He nodded across the fire to Small Elk, who had said little.

“Is there other news of the band?” asked Small Elk.

“Yes, I just told the chief, your weaponsmaker is dead. Stone Breaker.”

“The old man?” asked Small Elk, his voice tight.

“Yes. He had given his name to his apprentice. I heard he is quite skilled, too. A young man with a limp.”

“Yes, I know him.”

“Ah! And did you know he had married? Yes, a beautiful woman. She is with child, someone said. I cannot remember her name.”

“Yes, I know her, too,” Small Elk said, trying to choke back emotion.

“It is good!” their talkative guest chortled. “I am glad I remembered to tell you.”

Small Elk was not quite so pleased but gradually decided that it was just as well. He began to realize that he had spent the winter without really coming to grips with his loss. Now it had been forced on him, and though it was a shock, maybe this was the only way to recover his sense of reality. Before, there had been the possibility that things could change. Now there was little hope. Crow Woman was not only married but pregnant and beyond reach for him.

He had made some progress during the winter, had done some growing up. It was possible, now, for him to think more calmly, almost objectively. He wished that he could rejoice in the happiness of his two friends. Maybe someday he could do so. For now, he would continue to try. It would not be easy.

The Sun Dance that year was to be held at Turkey Creek. It was customary to choose a central location for ease of travel. It was never satisfactory for all but was usually most difficult for the bands to the far west. Occasionally, the Red Rocks, or the Mountain band, farther north, would decide not to attend. Those seasons were rare, however, usually restricted to years when the location for the Sun Dance was too far east to allow for the journey to be practical. Of course, if the Big Council chose a site too far
west
, the Eastern band was sure to protest loudly.

It had been a tradition of the People to scatter widely each season. But likewise, their tradition of oneness, though they might be scattered, was strong. This and the strong sense of the sacred nature of the ceremony had made the Sun Dance their most important annual event.

That, of course, was not to deny its importance as a social event. It might take many sleeps to travel to the prearranged site. Upon arrival there, people were ready for celebration, so there would be feasting and dancing, renewing of friendships, the greeting of relatives, gambling, gaming, and smoking—all leading to the seven days of the Sun Dance.

The northern band would be the first to arrive. It was their responsibility to begin to prepare the open-sided arbor in which the Sun Dance would be held. It had been their task since the election of their popular young chief, Many Robes, as Real-chief of the entire tribe. With honor goes responsibility.

One facet of their preparation fell to the family of the chief—the selection and securing of a large buffalo bull for the ceremony. A magnificent animal was found, and the hunters—relatives and friends of Many Robes—were able to stalk and kill it successfully. It was good. The ease with which this preceremonial was carried out seemed a good omen for the year. The skin, with the head still attached, was stretched over a framework of poles at one end of the
dance arbor to form an effigy in honor of the return of the buffalo.

Small Elk had never seen these early preparations before, since the office of Real-chief had not been in the Southern band for a number of years. He was fascinated by the size of the bull that the hunters had selected. He would have gladly taken part in the hunt if he had been invited. He was beginning to recover his confidence in his ability. But he was young and an outsider, and he knew that the chances for such an invitation were remote. It, the ceremonial hunt, was too important to risk the participation of amateurs.

Still, it was easy to become excited over these goings-on. Enthusiasm began to return, and Small Elk felt a thrill in the air over the coming festivities. This excitement and anticipation, of course, was an important part of the purpose of the celebration, the rejuvenation of the traditional urges that had led the People onto the plains for centuries.

The Red Rocks band was next to arrive at the site of the Sun Dance. This was unusual, in that they had the farthest to travel. But maybe not. This band held fiercely to tradition. Their very name told of their devoted preference for a specific place, a place long important to them. Sometimes they wintered elsewhere, but their favorite locale was in the Red Rocks.

Their other fierce loyalty, however, was to the rest of the tribe. It was very seldom, in the memory of anyone, that the Red Rocks missed a Sun Dance.

The helpers of Many Robes showed the Red Rocks the area assigned for their camp. This was only a matter of traditional welcome; they could have located their camping area themselves. It was always the same. The circle of the camp was open directly to the east, and all lodgedoors faced that direction to welcome Sun Boy’s appearance each morning. The Northern and Southern bands would camp in their respective segments of the circle, and the Mountain band in the northwest. The Eastern band would erect their lodges just north of the symbolic gap left for Sun Boy.

For now, the Red Rocks proceeded to the southwest segment of the camp circle and began to establish their camp. It had always been so, from before the time of memory. Probably since Creation, it was said. The same arrangement
was always carried out in seating of the bands around the council fire. That too went back into antiquity. There was even an empty space in the circle, reserved for a band that had occupied a southeast position. They had been exterminated long ago, killed by a warlike tribe who lived in the woodlands to the east. The empty spot in the camp and the empty seats in the Big Council had served as a grim reminder for many generations.

In another day or two the scouts reported the approach of the Mountain band, and again there were happy family reunions, the greetings of old friends, and the hustle and bustle of establishing camp. Excitement increased, and the festive atmosphere became stronger. It was a time of joyous celebration.

Small Elk, though he had mixed feelings, looked forward eagerly to the arrival of the Southern band. It would be good to see his parents, his brother and sister, and their families. His slightly uneasy feeling of apprehension revolved around greeting Stone Breaker and Crow Woman, now his wife. That would be difficult, at best. He would be expected to congratulate his friends and be happy with them in the happiness of their marriage. He was not certain that he could handle that in a convincing manner but knew that he must try. Eventually, he must overcome his jealousy and learn to live with the disappointment—either that or concede that he could not live with it and join a different band permanently.

There were eligible young women in the Northern band. Some had cast sidelong glances at him and smiled invitingly. He was certain that his grandparents would welcome a permanent move to their band. It was not uncommon. There was a constant shifting in the bands. Some families, in fact, seemed to change loyalties every two or three seasons, to follow the band whose chief seemed at the moment to carry the greatest prestige. He seriously considered such a move for a time.

No, he finally decided, he could not do it. His father had always looked with scorn upon those who instead of facing their problems, tried to avoid them by moving to a different band. Besides, he was not ready to become romantically involved with any of the beautiful daughters of the Northern band.

He was ready, he thought, to talk seriously with his father
about his future. He believed that White Buffalo would approve a vision quest this season. That would certainly help to show him the right way. It had been a stupid thing, he realized, to consider a vision quest out of anger and disappointment. Those were the wrong reasons. Yes, he looked forward to the arrival of his parents and the expected talk with his father.

Even so, he was caught totally off guard when the day finally came. The scout who had been watching to the south came trotting into the camp.

“The Southern band comes!” he announced as he made the circuit of the area. “The Southern band has arrived!”

11

S
mall Elk found himself avoiding contact with anyone except his parents. He realized what he was doing. Everyone else was hurrying around, greeting friends or family, exchanging jokes, stories, and small talk. Although he had assured himself that he too must do so, he found it difficult to mix with the others. He stayed away from the gregarious happiness, only belatedly joining his parents to help set up their lodge. He studiously avoided even looking around at other families, as they too began to establish their campsites.

This was going to be more difficult than he had thought. He kept imagining Crow Woman in the arms of his friend Stone Breaker, now her husband. Despite his resolve, he now wondered if it would be possible for him to accept it. Maybe he should consider again the possibility of joining another band.

He was somewhat distracted for a time by the reunion with his parents and the tasks of setting up camp. He knew it would be a day or two before he could find an opportunity to talk to his father, and that too was worrisome. It was midafternoon when the Southern band arrived, so there was much to do before dark. That was both good and frustrating—good, because it postponed the inevitable meeting with Stone Breaker and Crow Woman; bad, because it also postponed his chance to talk with his father.

Without actually realizing that he was doing it, he spent the evening finding ways to keep busy and avoiding prolonged conversation with anyone. He did not want to spend the evening hearing about the marriage of Crow Woman or her pregnancy. Also, he was not ready for his mother’s questions about the girls of the Northern band.
He rather suspected that a romance with a young woman of her own band would not be entirely unwelcome to Dove Woman.

BOOK: The Changing Wind
10.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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