The Strait : Chapter 7 : Obenabi
(1934 - 1985)
Fredy Perlman (August 20, 1934 – July 26, 1985) was an American author, publisher, professor, and activist. His most popular work, the book Against His-Story, Against Leviathan!, details the rise of state domination with a retelling of history through the Hobbesian metaphor of the Leviathan. Though Perlman detested ideology and claimed that the only "-ist" he would respond to was "cellist," his work as an author and publisher has been influential on modern anarchist thought. (From : Wikipedia.org.)
The baby’s cry pulled me out of my grandmother’s mask as if I were marrow that was sucked out of a bone. On the night when Sigenak, Wakaya, Isador and Aptegizhek gathered at Nizokwe’s lodge and told of the death of Nanikibi on the field of fallen trees, I was no longer in Nizokwe’s lodge, and I was no longer Katabwe. I was a tiny beginning in Namakwe’s lodge next door, shrieking alongside Cakima, kicking tiny feet and waving tiny arms. I knew nothing of what had happened, nothing of the people in Namakwe’s lodge nor of those next door. My memories would all be given to me later, when I was ready to accept the gifts. On that night I knew nothing of the spot where I lay, nothing of Tiosa Rondion on the strait between the Clear Lake and the Lake of the vanished Ehryes, nothing of the burial mounds behind Namakwe’s lodge outlined against the moonless sky by rising dawn, nothing of the bubbling springs that sent their waters past the mounds toward the strait. And of course I knew nothing of the otterskin bundle Sigenak was giving to his dead brother’s widow Katabwe, my grandmother.
I would go on knowing nothing of my birthplace because I was carried away from it across the width of the Peninsula toward my mother’s and my uncle’s birthplace, Bison Prairie.
Fed by Cakima in trader Burr-net’s great lodge, I wasn’t aware of the falling leaves, of the snows that covered all of Bison Prairie, of the numerous visitors who gathered on the council- ground after the snows melted. I may have heard some songs, seen some commotion, but I didn’t know the visitors were angry warriors, nor that my grandmother had burned her son Topin- bi’s gifts, nor that one of the visitors, my grandfather’s nephew Meteya had stayed in Bison Prairie after his companions left, married Bindizeosekwe of the Lakebottom village, and raised a lodge near Topinbi’s. More snows had to fall and melt before I could distinguish Topinbi from Meteya; and by then I, like my brother Nashkowatak and my sister Wabnokwe was no longer in the trader’s lodge but in Topinbi’s, my mother’s brother’s lodge, with his daughter Mimikwe and her mother and our grandmother Katabwe. By then I thought Meteya and Bindizeosekwe had always been in Bison Prairie and that my brother Wedasi had always lived in their lodge, just as I thought our other brother, Chebansi, as well as Topinbi’s son Nesoki, had always lived with Cakima in trader Burr-net’s lodge. Brown leaves fell and new buds grew before I was aware of the bad air that flowed between grandmother Katabwe and trader Burr- net. By then the carrier Shabeni had raised his lodge near Meteya’s.
The bad air between my father and grandmother became a stench on the day when my brother Nashkowatak returned from the fasting lodge grandmother had raised for him. Nashkowatak didn’t return on his own; our father pulled him into the village by the ear, shouted mean names at him, and called our grandmother a witch. Katabwe shouted back. She said the trader was destroying trees, killing animals and eating earth without giving, that he was the witch—but she spoke in our Rootlanguage and trader Burr-net didn’t understand. But that night, trader Burr-net came with Cakima to pull Wabnokwe and me out of Topinbi’s lodge, and they fetched Wedasi out of Meteya’s. We were Burr-nets, he said, and we were to grow in our father’s lodge. Nashkowatak and Chebansi were to be sent to the Strait, Wabnokwe to the Lakebottom. Wedasi and I were to remain with cousin Nesoki in the trader’s lodge.
Although I didn’t understand why, I knew that Cakima and Burr-net wanted to pull all the young people away from Katabwe—not only their own children, but Topinbi’s daughter Mimikwe as well. Since Topinbi was often away with the caravans, the old woman would be left completely alone. Cakima waited until Topinbi returned with the summer gift caravan. Then she got Topinbi to help her arrange a lavish marriage ceremony uniting Mimikwe to the carrier Shabeni. But Nashkowatak kept running to Katabwe to tell her what was being prepared and she made arrangements of her own.
The ceremony was grand. Three fires were lighted, and kin from the four quarters gathered on Bison Prairie’s council- ground. But the events weren’t the ones Cakima and Topinbi had arranged, and the outcome wasn’t the one Nashkowatak had hoped for. When all were gathered around the fires, grandmother Katabwe carried Bindizeosekwe’s and Meteya’s firstborn to the center, laid the baby girl on the ground while singing to her, and named the child Koyoshkwe. And then Katabwe began to sing of renewal and regeneration, songs I’d often heard in her lodge; and as she sang, the gathered hosts and guests formed themselves into circles around the fires and began to dance. I was in one of the circles, intent on imitating the motions. Only when those nearest me stopped did I become aware of a disruption: a figure with the mask of a long-eared hare and the clothes of trader Burr-net was putting out the fires. I saw Cakima angrily pulling Burr-net away from the council- ground while Katabwe and other women armed themselves with sticks, turned on the masked disrupter and chased him away from the fires, into the forest. From the way the hare ran, I could tell it was Nashkowatak. He had expected Mimikwe to join the chasing women, run to the forest after him, and put an abrupt end to the marriage ceremony. But during the entire chase, Mimikwe didn’t budge, and when the chase of the hare was over, she accepted a gift of deer meat from Shabeni.
My brothers Nashkowatak and Chebansi accompanied the following spring’s fur caravan to the Strait. Our sister Wabnokwe was taken to the Lakebottom, to the lodge of trader Sandypoint and grandfather’s crosswearing sister Kittihawa.
But Wedasi and I didn’t remain in trader Burr-net’s lodge. Nor did Mimikwe move to Shabeni’s lodge. After the ceremony, Wedasi returned to Meteya’s, I returned to Katabwe’s, and Shabeni abandoned his own lodge and joined Mimikwe in ours. Unlike Topinbi, a Firekeeper who had become a carrier, Shabeni was a carrier who wanted to become a Firekeeper.
The trees had shed and renewed themselves five times when a second daughter was born to Bindizeosekwe and Meteya, and then a son to Mimikwe and Shabeni. I wanted to take an active part in the naming ceremony, and I begged Katabwe to sing me the songs and show me the movements. Shabeni was always at my side when the old woman sang and danced. He said his people had all but forgotten the old ceremonies. Sometimes Wedasi also listened and watched.
I hummed the melodies and repeated the words when I accompanied Meteya or Shabeni to the forest, when I went with Bindizeosekwe and Mimikwe to the cornfields. When the ceremony began I was ready. Katabwe named the baby girl Wamoshekeshekwe, the boy Komenoteya. And I started one of the dances.
My grandmother was pleased with me, but my mother was not. Cakima let it be known that trader Burr-net wanted Wedasi and me, and also our sister Wabnokwe, to leave Bison Prairie with the following spring’s fur caravan. I was eager to see the hand-shaped Peninsula, and especially eager to see my birthplace at the opposite corner of the wrist. But Katabwe spoke of the Strait as a gatheringplace of Scabeaters who were kin to us and of others—she called them villageburners, shit- makers and manhunters—who didn’t mean us well. She spoke often of Nashkowatak’s losing himself in their midst because he had no dream spirit to guide him. By now she knew—the whole village knew, thanks to Nesoki’s spying and telling—that Nashkowatak hadn’t waited for a dream-spirit in his fasting lodge, but for Mimikwe.
I begged Katabwe to build me a fasting lodge so that I wouldn’t be lost. She said I was too little; the spirits wouldn’t see me. I kept begging, and at last she asked Shabeni to raise a lodge for me. It was midwinter. Shabeni and I huddled around the lodge fire while Katabwe prepared him for the lodge-raising and me for the dream-spirit. I was already fasting. Late one night, when the fire was nearly burnt out, she unpacked the contents of grandfather Nanikibi’s bundle. It was so dark I could barely make out the tiny bones of the water dweller, the feather of the air dweller, the shell that gave life to earth dwellers, the bark that depicted the dwellingplace. She sang of crawlers, walkers and fliers, of great sufferings and deaths, and of earth’s renewal.
The following morning, wrapped in blankets and hides, Shabeni and I set out on snowshoes. We didn’t go far. Shabeni dug through the snow until he exposed an opening between two rocks, a cave just big enough for a person his size, more than enough for me. We dug up brush and fallen leaves with which he lined the floor, and with the snow itself he raised a wind barrier at the entrance. Then he left me.
Wrapped in my blankets, my head leaning on the rock, I sat and waited. I heard a sound and thought Shabeni was still outside the cave. I also thought it whould have been night, but it was brightest day. Peering through the brush past the wind wall, I saw, not Shabeni, but an enormous bird, an eagle. Its wing was spread on the ground, the tip touching the cave entrance, like a matted path toward its back. I followed the path, sank into the offered seat, and rose toward the clouds. Looking down, I saw that the forest I’d traversed with Shabeni was snowless. I thought I recognized the riverbank and the village when suddenly the bird swooped down, almost crashing into the top of a lodge. Now I saw that the lodges were hulks, mere skeletons of lodges, without walls or hearths; the village was empty; the trees surrounding the village were tangles of leafless branches and trunks, all fallen, and no life stirred. Keeling tears flooding my eyes, I buried my head in the down, but something pulled my head back up. I felt myself lifted and carried. I knew I was no longer on the bird’s back, but I was too exhausted to open my eyes. I must have slept then, because I woke in trader Burr-net’s lodge; Cakima was trying to feed me broth.
I later learned that Nesoki had seen Shabeni guide me to I he forest, had then seen Shabeni return alone. Nesoki had told Cakima, and when she’d told Burr-net, the trader had raged about the savagery of exposing helpless children to winter’s told. Cakima had then asked Topinbi to learn my whereabouts, break into my fasting lodge and interrupt my dream.
I returned to my grandmother’s hearth only once before I left with the caravan. I told Katabwe my incomplete dream. She pondered for a long time. Then she smiled. She said my dream was complete. My spirit had come to me and spoken to me. She told me to call on my spirit when I needed it, and she told me to trust my dream. I resented her smile and her words. I thought she considered me too young to be visited by a real spirit. I thought she was dismissing me with pat phrases. I knew that my dream had been awful, had told me nothing meaningful, and couldn’t serve me as a guide. I grew eager to leave Bison Prairie.
When the ice thawed I threw myself into the preparations for the journey. I avoided Katabwe. Yet I was relieved to learn that I wouldn’t be completely separated from her stories and songs, because Shabeni intended to accompany the caravan, not to carry furs but to visit kin in the north and companions on the Strait. I begged Shabeni to promise to build me another fasting lodge, one where I wouldn’t be found and interrupted.
Wedasi and I were in Shabeni’s canoe, right behind Topin- bi’s, when we pushed off. Meteya’s and Bindizeosekwe’s young daughters Wamoshkeshekwe and Koyoshkwe were ill and Mimikwe was nursing them in an isolated place, but the other villagers gathered on the shore to watch us leave. Grandmother stood behind them. I felt a sudden sadness and wanted to run to Katabwe. But we were already midstream. I turned my eyes downriver and cried. I already knew that she hadn’t dismissed me with pat phrases.
We camped at the Rivermouth until we were joined by the canoes from the Lakebottom. My father had gone to fetch furs, messages, as well as my sister Wabnokwe, and he came with the Lakebottom caravan that would join us on the northward part of the journey. Before we set out, Wedasi and I climbed the hill overlooking the Rivermouth, to have a look at the ruins of the wooden enclosure once raised there by the bearded Scabeater called Boatmaker. Topinbi told us it was the only enclosure on the Peninsula that had not expanded into a gatheringplace of Invaders.
Trader Burr-net insisted that Wedasi and I join our mother and sister in his canoe, so that instead of sharing grandmother’s songs with Shabeni, I heard Wabnokwe talk of our Lakebottom kin. I was surprised by the disparaging way Wabnokwe spoke of Shecogosikwe and Wagoshkwe, the daughters of the bowl- woman Lokaskwe and grandmother’s brother Oashi, our closest kin on the Lakebottom. Shecogosikwe was married to Bindizeosekwe’s cousin Topash, and their daughter Menashi had just been named, but Wabnokwe spoke only of Shecogosikwe’s addiction to dementing drink. Of Wagoshkwe, our own greatgrandmother’s namesake, of carrier Lalim and of their son Naganwatek, Wabnokwe said only that they shunned the ways of Lemond. Wedasi and I knew of crosswearers like grandfather’s sister Kittihawa, but we knew nothing of Lemond. Wabnokwe told us that Kittihawa’s man, trader Sandypoint, and their daughter Suzan, were the center of the Lakebottom’s Lemond. She pointed out Suzan’s husband Jambati in one of the canoes as an exemplar of a man from the real Lemond. To me he looked like a man paddling a canoe.
She said Kittihawa’s son Kegon had turned his back on Lemond by moving into the lodge of the Firekeeper Meshewokwe, Bindizeosekwe’s sister, joining the circle that included Lokaskwe’s daughters. After filling our heads with Lemond, she told us there was also a false Lemond, and our uncle Nangisi’s daughter Manilu, as well as our uncle Winamek’s daughters Miaga, Kitasmo and Nogekwa were its centers. She said they wore Lemond’s clothes while knowing nothing of Lemond’s ways. She pointed toward the canoes of Nangisi and Winamek, whom I had seen before, and told us the men with them, men named Lashas, Laframboaz, Leme and Lepeti, were the husbands of the false Lemond. To me they looked no more false than Lemond’s Jambati; they were upright in their canoes, pushed their paddles from front to back. At last my sister boasted that she would soon outshine both of the I iakebottom’s Lemonds, the false as well as the real, because our final destination, the Strait, her and my birthplace, was the very heart of Lemond, and she intended to immerse herself in it.
Wedasi listened to our sister with complete indifference. He was as eager to reach the Strait as she, but not to immerse himself in Lemond. Wedasi couldn’t wait to see Meteya’s brother, the warrior Wakaya. Wedasi had moved to Meteya’s lodge so as to be with a warrior, and had been disappointed. Meteya, like our grandmother, had ceased to be a warrior when he moved to Bison Prairie. Wedasi and I had both learned from Meteya to hunt with bows. Wedasi hadn’t learned to use a li restick until Shabeni had showed him. But even Shabeni shunned the warrior’s ways. Wedasi was sure that Wakaya would not disappoint him.
Wedasi and I were eager to reach our first stoppingplace so as to go back to Shabeni’s canoe. My heart throbbed with excitement when Cakima pointed to the Beaver Island and when the sand hills came into view. We reached the village of the Leaning Tree. On shore, crowds of dancers waved and shouted toward us. Wadasi, Wabnokwe and I were all but pulled out of our canoe by welcoming celebrants. The entire shore seemed to be in motion. Hot stones were carried to innumerable sweat lodges. Countless fires were lit, and a circle of dancers formed around each hearth. I stayed close to Wedasi. The throbbing councilground, the fires, the cries of the dancers, made my head spin.
Wedasi and I lost track of all our kin. We wandered along the outskirts of the councilground, past the mounds of pelts standing before the lodges. Walking behind the lodges, we saw enormous wooden crosses on the hills; outlined against the moonlit sky they looked like angry thunderbirds hovering over the dancers. We returned to the councilground. The dancers had formed themselves into a vast circle. They were doing a war dance. They seemed to be propitiating the angry hilltop giants with imaginary victims. We heard the names of some of the victims and we shuddered. Wedasi and I had both heard our grandmother sing of those names. They were the names of our own kin. We realized that the dancers were reenacting the exploits of ancient Winamek’s league; they were celebrating the league’s victories against ancient Yahatase’s Turtlefolk, Sagi- kwe’s Peninsulakin, Wagoshkwe’s Redearth kin; they were glorifying Wiske instead of expelling him. It dawned on us that Shabeni’s kin, the people of the Leaning Tree, identified Wiske with the wooden giants on their hills, called him the savior, and offered our great-grandmothers’ people to his greed.
Wedasi and I were baffled and angry. I found no rest until the canoes left the Leaning Tree shore. We set out in Shabeni’s canoe and plied him with questions. Shabeni told us he shared our anger, he hadn’t taken part in the dance. But he reminded us that our uncles Nangisi and Winamek, who had taken prominent parts in the dance, were not great-grandsons of Yahatase or Sagikwe or Wagoshkwe. Like Shabeni himself, our Lakebottom uncles did descend from people who had fought against Turtlefolk, Redearth kin and Peninsulakin. And like Shabeni before he’d come to Bison Prairie, before he’d heard grandmother’s songs, our uncles and the Leaning Tree people knew nothing of the earlier descendants; they had forgotten those who’d lived on the Peninsula before the coming of the crosses and fur posts and leagues. Shabeni told us he was ashamed of the crosses and the names, but not of the dance itself. He told us t he dance came from the world described on our grandmother’s Mcroll, and that his kin would remain Rootkin so long as they continued to dance, even if they named their own kin enemies mid the Invaders saviors. When they forget the dance as well, he hii id, they’ll die.
The canoe caravan reached the top of the hand. Far toward the sunset was the great Greenbay, one-time refuge of Yahatase and ancient Wedasi. I could see only the rippling waters of M inhigami as we started to circle the Peninsula and turned toward the sunrise.
We beached among countless canoes and larger vessels, many of them fur-laden, near the fortified enclosure of Mishi- limakina. Kin as well as strangers greeted our arrival, but not with ready sweat lodges or lit hearths. Men rushed to help our Lakebottom kin set their pelt-loads on shore. The pelts had reached their destination.
Wabnokwe hurried to immerse herself in what she called Lemond; she followed Jambati toward his brothers Lou and Izzy and their sister Angie, and was soon warmed by the embraces of Izzy’s wife Sofi and daughter Felice. The rest of us were led to I lie enormous lodge of the songmaker Anto, where we were to least. We were embraced by Lesoter and Marikwe and their four children, by Will Soli-man and the medicinewoman Agibi- cocona. Wedasi clung to Shabeni and both left with Anto’s Hon, Lesoter, grandnephew of the warrior Mashekewis and himself a warrior who, like Shabeni, had stood alongside Wakaya on I lie field of fallen trees. My father and Soff s brother Will Soli- man filled the air with pelt talk which turned my stomach and I too slipped out of the lodge before the feast.
I drifted back to the landingplace and watched the men who carried pelts from canoes and stacked them in mounds, the rows of men who moved from one pelt mound to the next with measur- ing implements, the men who shoved each other while gesticulating and shouting. The unrhythmical noise was as unrelenting as the motion. Even when I understood words, their meanings passed me by, and I was sure the shouting men under- Htood each other no better than I understood them. I put my hands to my ears, let my elbows flap rhythmically, and found myself above the roar, hovering over the bundle-carrying men. Fixing my eyes on the bundles, I saw that they were not pelts, hut cadavers. I shrieked, my flapping lost its rhythm, and I t umbled to the ground.
I found myself on a mat in a room of the enormous lodge. Agibicocona sat beside me. From the shouting in the feast hall, I knew that the others were done eating and had started to drink. The medicinewoman told me the others thought me sick; Burr- net thought me demented. Agibicocona had tears in her eyes. She said she knew what I had seen, for she had seen it too. She said furry dam-builders were being annihilated, undammed rivers were running dry, earth was being washed away, and the sweet water of Kichigami was turning bitter. Her aunt Bowe- tinkwe, her granduncle Mashekewis, her companion’s mother, the Turtlewoman from the Bay of White Sands, had all seen this. She begged me to go on seeing, to go on dreaming. But she warned me not to see in the company of those who could no longer see, those who chased dreamers from their midst. I thanked Agibicocona for her gift; I didn’t then know just how precious her gift would be.
Our departure from the northern fur-gathering place was apparently delayed because of me. Burr-net was not convinced by Agibicocona’s assurances that I was well enough to travel. He spoke of me as demented, bewitched by my grandmother, and he seemed ashamed to have me near him. Our Lakebottom kin had already filled their canoes with gifts and headed toward the sunset.
When we finally left Mishilimakina, Shabeni and Topinbi paddled the canoe that carried our mother and father. Wabnokwe was with Jambati’s sister Angie and brother Izzy, with Sofi and Felice. Wedasi and I were crowded into Lesoter’s canoe with our aunt Marikwe and her four children, the oldest of whom, Sharlokwe, attached herself to Wedasi. Sharlokwe, like Wedasi, admired warriors, particularly her father Lesoter and her granduncle Mashekewis.
While Lesoter paddled, his sons Zozas and Medar taking turns with Wedasi and me, Sharlokwe spoke without pause. Her younger sister Rina listened wide-eyed but said nothing. Sharlokwe told of the Rootkin who had once inhabited the Peninsula’s sunrise shore; I had heard some of her stories from Katabwe. She told of the plagues, cheatings and killings that had driven the original people toward distant places of refuge. When we traversed Sagi Bay, between the Peninsula’s finger and thumb, Sharlokwe spoke with anger of her aunt Anjelik Kuyerye, sister of the warrior Aleshi, who had betrayed the Strait’s warriors to her Redcoat called Star-ling, and had then guided the Redcoat to Sagi Bay. While Mashekewis and Aleshi had fought alongside Lesoter’s uncle Bati to oust the Redcoats from the Strait, Anjelik’s Star-ling attacked the pines of Sagi Huy. Helped by treecutters from the Strait and even by my Lakebottom kinsman Sandypoint, this Star-ling removed the May's pines, starved out the deer, moose and beaver, and made the soil itself run into the Bay. The treekiller had defeated our ,» Sagi kin without once facing them in battle; he did it by destroying their forest. The Bay’s Rootkin had fled in four directions, Home toward the Rootkin on Kichigami’s shores, others to the remaining Turtlefolk in Morningland, still others toward the carriers by the Leaning Tree, the rest toward the surviving Kedearth kin in the Greenbay on Mishigami’s other shore. She Huid the Cheaters and Scalpers wanted to remove our kin from I lie Strait as well, but her father Lesoter was ready to confront I hem with talking leaves which spoke a language they under- nl.ood, and if the Scalpers failed to understand the talking leaves, Lesoter and his cousin Isador and Marikwe’s cousin Wakaya would resume the battle they had called off when I was horn, the battle on the field of fallen trees.
At last we landed on the shore of the Strait that separates I lie Morningland from the Peninsula, Wabnokwe’s and my birthplace, Tiosa Rondion, the village of the three fires. Wab- nokwe leaped toward the embraces of Lemond, Wedasi ran to tieek the warrior Wakaya. I stepped cautiously out of the canoe, lil led with apprehension.
Sad faces greeted us. Anto’s sister Nizokwe was dead. Her burial was underway. Grandmother Katabwe had spoken loudly of Nizokwe. I had hoped to hear her sing.
Since we were Nanikibi’s grandchildren, Lesoter, the dead woman’s nephew, led my brother, sister and me to the head of l Ik- burial procession. Nizokwe’s and Mini’s granddaughter Beth knew who we were and she told us who the others were: Nizokwe’s son and daughter Isador and Isabel; Nizokwe’s surviving brother Pier and two of his daughters, Jozet and Monik; and the son and daughter of Nizokwe’s dead brother Bati, Nawak and Pamoko. Beth told us our grandfather’s sister Namakwe was elsewhere helping Pier’s daughter Margit give birth.
The procession stopped on the hill by the bubbling springs. Isador and Pier placed the body into the ground, and next to it they placed a musical instrument carved for Nizokwe by her brother Anto. Buckets of earth were carried to the hilltop until a mound of tear-soaked earth rose above the body. In the moonlight, Isador unfolded and displayed the belts left to him by Nizokwe, belts which spoke of the second founding of Tiosa Rondion. And then another procession moved toward the hilltop, with candles, flags and crosses, with wails and chants. This procession was led by Tisha, son of Mini’s cousin Magda, by Tisha’s daughter Liket, and by my aunt Mikenokwe, sister of Nawak and Pamoko. These chanting mourners placed a cross on top of the mound.
The sound of musical instruments filled the air and many of the mourners began to dance on the councilground between the hill and the springs. The three of us stayed with Beth, and were soon joined by Jozet and Monik who said they remembered Wabnokwe’s birth in their father’s great lodge; they made much of Wabnokwe’s yellow hair. Beth’s cousin Liket joined us. Liket showed us an amulet left to her by her grandmother Magda. My great-grandfather Ozagi had given that amulet to Beth’s greatgrandmother Mani, who had passed it to Magda, Mani’s niece. The amulet linked us. Beth showed us another link, a bundle made of beads and cloth which, she said, had once been shaped like an animal. Katabwe had told me of this gift. It was made by Katabwe’s mother Menoko for Beth’s great-grandmother, and its last possessor had been Nizokwe. Beth cried while telling of the recent night when Nizokwe gave her the little animal that had lost its shape. Beth said she knew then that her grandmother was dying; she knew that Nizokwe’s village, the village where three hearths had been kept burning since the days of the great-grandmothers Ubankiko and Chacapwe, was dying with Nizokwe.
I didn’t grasp the depth of Beth’s sorrow because I didn’t yet know enough, and also because my concerns were elsewhere.
Wabnokwe was whisked away by Monik, presumably toward Lemond. Our uncle Topinbi and our father Burr-net were with the Cheaters, disposing of pelts and haggling over Hills. Shabeni counciled with Isador and Wakaya. I knew that Soli and Felice were attending the wedding of Izzy’s sister Angie. I lost track of Lesoter, Marikwe and their children. Wedasi and I were lodged with our mother at Namakwe’s, wli(‘re I was born. We shared the lodge with crosswearing M ikenokwe and her son Shando, who wanted to be a fur carrier like Topinbi.
Namakwe, Nanikibi’s sister, returned from the birth at I ’icr’s, but soon left again to help her own daughter Pamoko give hirth. Namakwe’s hands had pulled me out of Cakima’s womb. I'Yom the little I saw of Namakwe, I knew that she was ii I together unlike my grandmother Katabwe. If Namakwe remembered the days when ancient Wedasi lived on the spot occupied by her lodge, if she knew of the days before the Invaders came, she gave no signs of knowing or remembering them, nlie sang no songs recalling them. I realized that I was among km who remembered Ubankiko and Chacapwe and the second founding of Tiosa Rondion but who knew nothing of the first, kin lor whom the coming of the Scabeaters was the beginning. I knew that the belts displayed by Isador at his mother’s grave were ancient Shutaha’s belts, that these belts celebrated the union of Turtlefolk and Rootkin with the Scabeaters whose plagues had destroyed the first Tiosa Rondion’s Turtlefolk and Kootkin.
Wedasi often joined Isador, Shabeni and Wakaya at their councils, and accompanied them on a short hunt. I stayed close l-o Namakwe’s, looking for the spot on the water’s edge where a double-trunked tree had once cast a shadow of hare’s ears on a roundish painted rock. The uppermost windows of Pier’s enormous lodge were visible above the trees behind the lodges of Namakwe’s neighbors, and upstream along the shore I could see n corner of the Invaders’ forbidding enclosure.
I learned the cause of Beth’s grief abruptly, when an argument broke out between my brother and our lodge-mate Shando. I learned that Beth’s Tiosa Rondion, the second, Shutaha’s village, was about to break, to split in two. Shando defended his uncle Dupre, aunt Pamoko’s man, who had counciled with the Scalper married to Pier’s daughter Jozet, a man called Wit-nags. Shando praised Dupre for emerging from the council with a leaf on which Wit-nags pledged that if he ever camped near Tiosa Rondion, he would protect the inhabitants of Namakwe’s village, as well as the trees, animals and burial grounds. But Wedasi had heard Wakaya and Isador talk of the leaf and say they would rather be given a poisonous rattlesnake than the Scalper’s pledge. I realized that Tiosa Rondion’s kin were pulling apart. Wakaya and Isador remained hostile to the Scalpers against whom they had fought alongside my grandfather. Namakwe’s son Nawak had also fought against the Scalpers. But Nawak’s hostility had cooled, because he and his sister Mikenokwe had been betrayed by the Scalpers’ Redcoat enemies. These differences had not been aired while Nizokwe lived. Now they sundered the village.
I didn’t pay much attention to the argument. I was more concerned about Shabeni’s departure from the Strait. He was leaving with Topinbi, my mother and father, and Shando as Topinbi’s apprentice. I reminded Shabeni of his promise to build me another fasting lodge. Shabeni smiled. He said I would have a lifetime in which to dream, but only a few seasons to examine my birthplace. He renewed his promise before he left.
Wedasi and I wintered in Tiosa Rondion; W'abnokwe stayed in Pier’s lodge. Wedasi accompanied Wakaya and Isador on their hunts. He already knew how to use a rifle, and he didn’t like to hear about the ancestor whose name he bore. I occasionally accompanied them. Once I went with Nawak and Dupre, but I confined myself to my bow and hit nothing with my arrows.
In midwinter Namakwe fell ill, and Pamoko was constantly in our lodge with compresses and herbal potions. When the snows melted, Pamoko went to Pier’s lodge to celebrate the marriage of Nizokwe’s widowed daughter Isabel, Beth’s mother, to a man called Gore-nags, brother of Scalper Wit-nags. When Wedasi learned of this marriage he told me not to be surprised. Isabel was not like her mother, brother or daughter. Wedasi had heard Isador tell that Isabel had once loved our uncle Aptegizhek, son of Oashi and Lokaskwe; she had loved Aptegizhek until he lived through the massacre on the Tuscarawas in the Beautiful Valley, and had then turned her back to him, repelled by his wound.
When the first leaf buds appeared, it became clear to everyone that the Scalper’s pledge to Dupre had been a rock made of ice. It melted in spring. Wit-nags and a crew of treecutters came to the edge of Tiosa Rondion and began to down a part of the forest. When Nawak and Dupre confronted him, Wit-nags explained that his people’s lodges were somewhat different from ours, and he pointed to Pier’s enormous wooden lodge to illustrate the difference. Nawak and Dupre counciled with Namakwe and decided to keep the peace.
But when Isador and Wakaya returned from the hunt, they, us well as several youths from the lodges of the Turtlefolk, confronted the treecutters with weapons in hand. Wakaya asked the intruders the question the Redearth warrior Lamina is said to have asked the first Scabeaters on the Strait: What do you want here? Scalper Wit-nags answered Wakaya differently than he had answered Nawak. Wit-nags said he was building a lodge on land that belonged to his wife’s father Pier and to her cousin Dupre, and he waved a copy of Dupre’s leaf in Wakaya’s lace.
Nawak, Dupre and the other Firekeepers were as determined to let the Scalper build his lodge as Isador and Wakaya were to stop him. I was sure Lesoter would have sided with his cousin Isador, but Lesoter had left Marikwe and his children on the Strait and returned to the north with Izzy and Sofi after the marriage of Izzy’s sister to a Scalper named Whip-o. Many of the Turtleyouths painted themselves for war. But Wakaya and Isador were waiting for the entire village to respond to the i ncursion; neither of them wanted to take up arms without, or possibly against, the other half of his kin-village.
The Turtlefolk of Tiosa Rondion counciled without Firekeepers, around a single hearth. Wedasi attended their councils. Many of the youths remained painted, ready to put an end t o the cutting as well as the cutters. But the lodge mothers and I lie warriors who stood by them, such as Wakaya and Isador, at last prevailed. There would be no fratricide. The Turtlefolk resolved to keep Scalpers out of their village by moving their village away from the Scalpers. They dismantled parts of their lodges, abandoned the rest, and moved downstream to a place across from Turkey Isle, a place they called Karontaen. Isador carried the belts woven by ancient Shutaha, belts which described a village with four peoples around three hearths, to a village where all were Turtlefolk, either born or adopted. Isa- dor’s niece Beth accompanied her uncle to the new village. Wedasi wanted to go there too, but Wakaya told my brother that Namakwe’s village would be a sad place if it hadn’t a single warrior in it. Wedasi stayed, as I did, in a village that was no longer Tiosa Rondion. Namakwe’s kin continued to light the three hearths, but the hearths were no longer meetingplaces. Namakwe’s village became a Firekeepers’s village, like Bison Prairie.
When the leaves were fully grown, Topinbi and Shando arrived on the Strait with Bison Prairie’s furs. They came by way of Kekionga, having accompanied my uncle Aptegizhek to his village. Shabeni wasn’t with them. What came with them instead was the news that my grandmother Katabwe had been buried.
Topinbi told us his mother had died soon after we had left Bison Prairie. I was sure she died when we were in Mishilimakina, when I became a bird and saw that the fur bundles were really corpses. Katabwe the warrior-woman had originally been called birdwoman. I then knew it had been her spirit that had come to me in my first dream and flown me above a Bison Prairie turned barren. When her spirit left her, part of it went to the land beyond the rising sun, the other part lodged itself in me; that was why I could fly on my own. She’d told me my first dream had been complete. Now I believed her. But I still didn’t see how it could guide me.
Topinbi said the burial had already ended when the gift caravan from the Strait had returned to Bison Prairie. Oashi’s son Aptegizhek had learned of the death and hurried to Bison Prairie from Kekionga; his sisters Shecogosikwe and Wagosh- kwe had left the Lakebottom to attend their aunt’s burial; Oashi’s children remembered that Katabwe had been close to their mother Lokaskwe. Topinbi’s daughter Mimikwe had made all the burial arrangements; she had been with Katabwe during the last days.
And then Topinbi showed us a gift—a bundle. Dying Katabwe had told Mimikwe to send the bundle to me, Obenabi. It was grandfather Nanikibi’s otterskin bundle, the Firekeepers’ medicine bundle. I hadn’t cried when Tiosa Rondion, my birthplace, the village of three fires, had broken up. But I couldn’t stop my tears when I accepted the bundle Topinbi brought me. Like my brothers and my sister, I had abandoned our grandmother. But she hadn’t abandoned me; she had known that her spirit would lodge itself in me.
Topinbi had also carried talking leaves from our father to the Cheater called Jay-may, the gatherer of Bison Prairie’s furs. One of these leaves asked this Jay-may to see to it that Wedasi and I meet more people than our closest kin; Burr-net wanted us to go among those our grandmother had called Witchburners, ('heaters and Shitmakers, those whom Wakaya, and after him, Wedasi, called United Scalpers.
Cheater Jay-may asked our brother Chebansi to do us this lavor. Chebansi, as well as our oldest brother Nashkowatak, had recently returned from a long stay in Hochelaga, the onetime center of Turtlefolk which was now a center of beaver furs. Wedasi and I hadn’t seen our older brothers since Mimikwe’s marriage to Shabeni in Bison Prairie.
Chebansi did as he was bid, but not joyfully. He led Wedasi and me out of Namakwe’s lodge toward the crowded village shared by Scabeaters and United Scalpers. The fortified enclosure was the largest structure, but it seemed to me the entire village was an enclosure. Large, square houses blocked the view of the forest as well as the strait, and the paths between the houses stank of refuse. The tallest of the houses was the one in which the crosswearers lodged all their spirits, including the one they called Savior, their Wiske. Chebansi led us to a tiny room in a lodge he called the schoolhouse, a room we were to share with him. The room was barely larger than the inside of a sweat lodge, and there were no nearby woods to run to when we were covered with sweat.
Chebansi confessed to us that he wasn’t pleased to drag us into the Invader’s world, but that if he hadn’t done it, Nashkowatak would have. Wedasi and I were surprised, since in Bison Prairie Chebansi had avoided Katabwe and all the other Firekeepers and had confined himself to trader Burr-net’s lodge. We were even more surprised when he told us that our father wanted us not only introduced to the Invaders, but totally Iransformed by them. He warned us of the Invaders’ powers which, he said, were not limited to the instant death that rushed from their firesticks. He told us they knew how to take the meanings out of words, not only the words of their language but those of ours as well. Once we lost the meanings, we would be unable to remember our own ways or to think of our kin.
Wedasi boasted that he was impervious to the Invaders’ powers; he said he was coming among the Invaders as a scout I rom Wakaya’s war camp. I wasn’t as sure of myself, especially niter Chebansi told us that Nashkowatak and Wabnokwe had already been transformed. The news of Wabnokwe did not surprise me, but the news of Nashkowatak shocked me, for I remembered that our oldest brother had grown at Katabwe’s hearth.
Chebansi told us the Scalpers did their transforming in ceremonial gatherings they called schools, but their schools did not always succeed. He said the gathering which he and Nashkowatak attended had been diverted by our cousins Liket, Monik and Beth, so that Chebansi and Nashkowatak had had to be sent to Hochelaga for more powerful medicine. But he warned us that Scalpers Jay-may and Wit-nags, together with the Scabeater called Jo Kampo, had prepared another school, and that they learned from their failures.
We were not exposed to the Invaders’ transforming process until the birds flew southward. By then I was familiar with many of the other children who were to be transformed. Our aunt Marikwe brought her four children, Sharlokwe, Zozas, Medar and little Rina; they stayed close to Wedasi and Chebansi, just as I did. Their cousin Felice, Soffs daughter, who had been left in Marikwe’s lodge by her mother, stayed away from Marikwe’s children and also from Wabnokwe, confining herself to a circle that Wabnokwe called the snobs. Felice had a pretty smile; I was sorry she was a snob. My sister was herself a snob and avoided us as much as Felice did, extending her friendship only to Pier’s daughter Monik and to Isador’s niece Beth. Beth came by horse from Karontaen to be included in the school; she stayed with her cousin Liket in the crosswearers’ spirit- lodge. The fourth group, six crosswearers, were relatively friendly to us; one of them, a boy named Bert, shared my apprehensions; Bert’s sister Teresa shared Wedasi’s scorn toward the Scalpers’ powers and was soon on joking terms with my brother. Belle-may, the Scalper’s daughter, also came, and kept largely to herself, being shut out of all four groups.
The gathering itself took place in the house in which my brothers and I had our room. I prepared myself carefully for the first encounter, remembering the advice I’d received in Mishilimakina from the medicinewoman Agibicocona. I flattened the otterskin bundle against my chest and covered it completely with my shirt. I formed my eyes and mouth into a mask of amused attentiveness, a mask that told anyone who looked at me that I had seen nothing, heard nothing, and knew nothing.
The agent who was to accomplish our transformation was a woman who called herself Misus Bay-con, a woman younger t han Liket, who understood only the Scalpers’ language. Except for two or three of the crosswearers, all the children understood tier language. I understood her words perfectly and I also under- Htood Chebansi’s warning. Misus Bay-con used familiar words and gave them twisted meanings, so that I grasped as little as I would have if she’d spoken a language alien to me. Words can have different meanings, just as trees can be birches or oaks? Hut a birch that’s twisted or stunted is not a third kind of tree; it’s a twisted birch. Misus Bay-con’s meanings were like the Htunted birch; they weren’t meanings that merely differed from the ones I was used to; they were twisted, bent out of shape.
I soon thought that Chebansi’s warnings had been exaggerated. I didn’t know what conjurings had been worked on Nashkowatak in Hochelaga, but I knew that neither Wedasi nor I were likely to swallow Misus Bay-con’s twisted meanings. If we had been mere babies we might have succumbed, but as it was, even little Rina, the youngest, was old enough to distinguish a full-grown birch from a twisted one. The only one who paid attention to Misus Bay-con was Belle-may, daughter of Jay-may’s first wife, and she had already learned the twisted meanings from her father. I actually felt sorry for Misus Bay- con, who had no idea how alone she was. Most of the children, and obviously those who couldn’t understand her language, wore smiling, attentive masks, said nothing, and heard as much as they said. Monik and Beth confronted her continually, and nlie must have thought they were the only ones who disliked what she said. She must also have guessed that Chebansi was less than sympathetic to her, because Wedasi as well as Beth consulted Chebansi whenever they prepared to confront Misus May-con.
Misus Bay-con spoke a great deal about property and cleaniness. Chebansi told Wedasi and me what she meant. He told us Scalper Jay-may had had some rotten meat in his store. The proper thing to do with that filthy meat would have been to bury it. But Scalper Jay-may had salted the rotten meat and then given it to people one would have thought to be his mortal enemies, but who considered him a friend. In Misus Bay-con’s eyes, Jay-may had done what was clean and proper, for he had gained property instead of losing it.
It was Wedasi who actually confronted Misus Bay-con; he asked her if he, Wedasi, could ever become clean and proper, and she set out on a long tirade about owning and saving property.
When she was done, Wedasi advised her not to visit our kin; or even her own. Almost all the children laughed, but Misus Bay- con’s face was blank; she really didn’t understand what Wedasi .meant. jSo Wedasi explained that a person who hoarded food while others hungered, who hoarded clothing while others were cold, who locked up a lodge while others had no shelter, would not be considered either clean or proper in any village, by anyone’s kin. He told her such a person would be considered an enemy, and not only an enemy but an unadoptable one, an enemy who was hostile to any and all human beings, kin and foe alike; such a person would be expelled as a hideous monster.
Everyone else understood Wedasi, but Misus Bay-con’s face remained blank; she said she had no idea what he was talking about. He might as well have spoken to her in the language of Rootkin. Beth and Monik continued to challenge Misus Bay- con, but Wedasi tired of the confrontations. And he ridiculed Chebansi’s warnings. If Misus Bay-con illustrated the extent of the Scalpers’ sorcery, then we had nothing to fear from the Scalpers except their killing-sticks. As soon as spring came, Wedasi stopped attending the gatherings, preferring to run to the woods outside the crowded village. I too grew tired of the poor woman’s pathetic attempts to twist us out of shape. I retained my attentive mask, but I felt as if I’d been holding my breath; I was starved for fresh air.
The dreary sessions with the scalped words and twisted meanings finally ended, not because of Wedasi’s boredom or Monik’s challenges, but because Namakwe died and most of us made our way to the Firekeepers’ village. There was talk of sorcery exerted by the Scalper Wit-nags and of spells cast by the Turtlefolk of Karontaen, but Wedasi and I knew that our grandfather’s sister had been old and ill, and her death gave us reason to escape from the numbing school and rejoin our kin.
It was my third spring on the Strait. Much had changed since my arrival. The lodges of Nawak, Pamoko, Mikenokwe and the other Firekeepers still stood below the hill by the springs, but there were few signs that these lodges had once been part of a larger village, one with three living hearths, Tiosa Rondion. The remains of the long lodges of the Turtlefolk had been dismantled and burned in winter’s hearths. To the north the village was bounded, walled-in by Pier’s enormous house and by the nearly-finished monstrosity of Scalper Wit- nags.
Shortly after our return to Namakwe’s, Topinbi arrived with Namakwe’s grandson Shando and with guests from Kekionga. Shando stayed with Wedasi and me in his mother Mikenokwe’s lodge, while Mikenokwe and Pamoko and their brother Nawak made arrangements for the burial of their mother. Shando spoke of Bison Prairie’s beavers and hunters, but, he brought us no news of Meteya, Mimikwe or Shabeni, except the news that Shabeni had not wanted to accompany the I'ur caravan.
The kin from Kekionga were strangers to me, although I knew who they were. Gabinya was the son of Namakwe’s sister Tinami; he was Marikwe’s brother. I knew that when his cmiHi ns had fought the Scalpers at the time of my birth, Gabinya hnd (led from the fallen trees and hidden in the Redcoats’ fort next to the battlefield. Gabinya came with a distant kinsman of mint; who did not live in Kekionga but in Piqua, in the center of the Meautiful Valley, among Southbranch and Eastbranch kin. His name was Bijiki and he was the son of Lokaskwe’s sister Magidins. Gabinya was on the Strait to attend his aunt’s burial. Mijiki had come to introduce his son Pezhki and his nephew Mims to Misus Bay-con’s school.
Although neither Nawak nor Pamoko wore crosses, they let I lic'i r sister Mikenokwe prepare a crosswearer’s burial. I was not invited to help with the arrangements, so I took my otterskin- liundle into the forest where, surrounded by none but trees and Im rds, I unpacked its contents. I saw and touched the gifts passed on t o me, gifts from long-vanished ancestors, gifts whose meaning could not yet grasp. All I saw was a bundle of fishbones, a Intt.her, a shell, and two rolled sheets of bark which I kept rolled from fear they would disintegrate.
I walked alongside Pamoko to the burial place. She had nursed her mother through the winter. At the end Namakwe had given Pamoko her herb bundle and had asked Pamoko to bring Mikenokwe and Nawak to her lodge. Pamoko told me her mother didn’t know that Tiosa Rondion had already dispersed; Namakwe’s last words to her son and daughter were to keep the hearths of Tiosa Rondion lit, to make sure the three fires never died.
Wakaya as well as Isador had come up for their aunt’s burial, but they kept themselves in the shadows and I didn’t see them. I did see Lesoter and Sofi, who arrived during the burial procession. I learned from Lesoter’s daughter Sharlokwe that Soffs man Izzy had died during the journey to Mishilimakina and that Lesoter had lost his father Anto. Sharlokwe also told me that Soffs daughter Felice was ashamed of her mother for returning to the Strait with Lesoter instead of coming properly with Izzy’s brothers. I also saw Tinami’s son Gabinya at his aunt’s burial, more intent on chasing after Monik than on Mikenokwe’s crosses and candles.
While the crosswearers kneeled to the spirits on their banners, wailed, and planted crosses, Sofi went from Chebansi to Beth to Isador spreading news of other happenings in Mishilimakina, happenings which concerned me and all the other children attending Misus Bay-con’s school. When the burial ended, Beth invited all those involved with the school to council with Sofi at Isador’s hearth in Karontaen. Chebansi led Wedasi and me, and also the boys from the Beautiful Valley, Muns and Pezhki, to the Turtlefolks’ shore. Pezhki’s father Bijiki had gone to visit his mother and his younger brother on the shore of the Clear Lake north of the Strait, and he’d left his son and nephew at Nawak’s, after asking Chebansi to introduce the boys to Misus Bay-con’s school.
Instead of returning to Misus Bay-con’s school after Namakwe’s burial, more than half of Misus Bay-con’s scholars were gathered around Sofi at the Karontaen councilground. My sister Wabnokwe was there with Beth. Lesoter’s and Marikwe’s four children were there. Beth’s cousin, the crosswearer Liket, was there. I found a place in the circle between my cousin Sharlokwe and my uncle Wakaya; Wedasi sat on the other side of Wakaya. It was the first time I had seen the renowned warrior up close; he didn’t seem at all formidable. In the firelight I saw the silhouette of the arrowhead dangling from his neck.
Most of the gathered kin were Turtlefolk who had left Tiosa Itondion with Isador soon after his mother’s death, when the Scalpers started downing the trees. Their village, consisting only of longhouses surrounded by pickets and watchtowers, neemed as strange to me as the Invaders’ village upstream.
After the usual greetings and expressions of gratitude, Sofi Hpoke to the gathering in the language of the Turtlefolk, so that I understood nothing of what she said. My three brothers, and even my sister Wabnokwe, had heard Tiosa Rondion’s Turtlefolk during many seasons, but I had been carried to Bison Prairie before I had learned to speak.
I was entranced by Wakaya’s arrowhead pendant; if Shar- lokwe hadn’t kept nudging me, I would have dreamed. I had to wait until everyone was heard, and the council broke up, before I learned why they had gathered. Sharlokwe generously translated every speech for me and also for Muns and Pezhki, both of whom had fallen asleep during the council.
Sharlokwe told us that Misus Bay-con had a counterpart in t he north, a husband by the name of Rev-rend Bay-con. Both May-cons had been invited to the Peninsula by the Scabeater Jo Kampo and by the Scalpers Jay-may and Wit-nags. The Rev- rend was to do in Mishilimakina what Misus did to us on the Strait. Sharlokwe spoke the same way Chebansi had when he’d warned us of the school. She spoke of fallen forests and split v i I lages, of kin pushed out of their ancestral homes. She said the Horcery of the Bay-cons was more powerful than the Scalpers’ I'i rewater and even their firesticks. She said the Redcoats who had fought against our grandfathers and granduncles Mini, Aleshi, Mashekewis and Nanikibi had not been able to accomplish so much as the Bay-cons. I protested that Misus Bay-con had not done anything to us. Sharlokwe assured me that Misus was either feeble or less experienced, because Rev-rend Bay-con had done much. He had turned Soffs brother Will Soli-man and her dead Izzy’s brothers Lou and Jambati into Witchburners and Cheaters. He had separated Soffs brother from Agibi- cocona, accusing the medicinewoman of being a sorceress and saying that a proper person could not be married to a sorceress. He had separated Jambati from Sandypoint’s daughter Suzan because, he said, Suzan was too dark to be the wife of a proper person. And when Sofi and Lesoter had returned to Mishilimakina, they’d been locked up together in a small room, accused of being Agibicocona’s accomplices and even of murdering Izzy. And all this had been done so that Lou and Jambati and Will Soli-man could take over Soffs, Lesoter’s and Agibicocona’s lodges. Anto had died fighting the schemers, and Lesoter and Sofi had escaped to the Strait to seek allies.
I didn’t believe everything Sharlokwe told me because I couldn’t see how someone with Misus Bay-con’s powers could accomplish so much. But the kin gathered at the Karontaen councilground apparently believed Sofi because the longhouse women and the warriors resolved to oust the Bay-cons from the Peninsula if the crosswearers on the Strait failed to do so. Liket, who had spoken in the language of Prairiekin, had assured the angry Turtlefolk that she and her father Tisha and the other crosswearers would see to it that no armed clash became necessary, at least not on the Strait. Liket’s assurances had failed to cool the anger, but I didn’t understand the various responses.
Wedasi and I returned to Mikenokwe’s after the council dispersed. Muns and Pezhki were lodged next door to us, at Nawak’s. Muns and I were the same age, and we soon learned we had many other things in common. Muns’s father Onimush and his uncle Bijiki, sons of Magidins and trader Con-err, were themselves traders, like my own father. Muns had no desire to be a trader. He had grown among the kin of his mother Mekinges and her sister Chindiskwe, Eastbranch Rootkin whose ancestors had been driven to the Beautiful Valley from the Oceanshore. One of his ancestors was Lenapi, a man my grandmother had respected. He told me about kin whose whereabouts even Katabwe hadn’t known. His closest friend in Piqua was Ojejok, son of Wakaya’s and Meteya’s brother Wapmimi.
Muns begged me to share the contents of the otterskin with him. He was especially excited about the bark scrolls. He told me his uncle Aptegizhek in Kekionga had a similar scroll, a scroll that spoke of Muns’s own Eastbranch kin; I was able to tell Muns how the Eastbranch scroll had come to be in Aptegizhek’s hands.
Muns didn’t share my doubts of Sharlokwe’s veracity. He hadn’t yet seen Misus Bay-con, but he was as wary as Chebansi of the United Scalpers’ transforming powers. He told me the Scalpers had transformed his uncle Bijiki the same way they’d transformed Soffs kinsmen in the north. Bijiki had grown among the Rootkin of Sagi Bay, at the Clear Lake just north of the Strait. When he’d been ready to hunt on his own, Bijiki and IiIh brother Onimush had moved to Piqua and married South- tiriiiK'h and Eastbranch women. They had shared meat with the I'iqun kin, smoked with them and counciled with them. But at kmo council, some of the Piqua kin, and also the preaching Mrcth ern who’d joined them, urged Bijiki to travel to the east to complain of incursions and killings perpetrated by the Invaders pouring over the mountains into the valley. Bijiki had gone ptiHt, and he’d returned transformed. He began to hoard instead ol Hhnring. He befriended the Kekionga traitor Will-well who’d nticc been Wakaya’s half-brother. He insisted on being called John Con-err instead of Bijiki. And he brought his older son and IiIm nephew to the Strait to have them undergo a similar trans- liiinintion.
Wabnokwe and Monik came to Mikenokwe’s to prepare us tin Hu1 final confrontation with Misus Bay-con. We were to pielend we were simply returning to school after our kliiHwoman’s burial, and that we knew nothing about Misus or llev rend Bay-con. I was already experienced at pretending, but Muiih was not very good at it.
I walked with Muns and Pezhki from the Firekeepers’ vil- we were accompanied by Monik and Wabnokwe. Wedasi told nil he knew to Teresa and Bert, who spread the news to the (tlher erosswearers.
There were several confrontations, some of them so funny I hnl M uns and other children burst out laughing, putting Misus llii v con on her guard. Monik had recruited my uncle Gabinya to lie the agent of Misus Bay-con’s downfall, not because Gabinya ahnred the hostility of the others but because he didn’t share it. (iiihmya lodged with his sister Marikwe. He knew what had Imppened in Mishilimakina, but he was completely indifferent In 111h kin as well as their plight. Gabinya’s sole interest was in vniiii)-: girls, and Monik knew that the mere sight of Belle-may demented him. So Monik urged him to assist Belle-may, Misus I In v run’s lone defender, and to present himself to Misus Bayun i iih someone eager to learn her teachings.
Monik couldn’t have found a better person for the role. Monik herself, as well as Beth and a crosswearing cousin of I hi'i rs called Lisa, confronted Misus Bay-con by referring to ancient crosswearers’ traditions which Misus Bay-con claimed In understand better than the crosswearers; they exposed Misus Bay-con’s ignorance of those traditions. But Gabinya pretended to agree with Misus Bay-con. Gabinya pretended to defend her statements and haltingly repeating her words, he then translated her words into languages all but Belle-may could understand. Thus he translated her statements about saving money into statements about saving male seed, and her statements about spending, or as she said investing, the money, into statements about pumping the seed into a womb. Muns laughed until tears flowed, the crosswearers were mortified, but Misus Bay- con praised Gabinya’s understanding and Belle-may thanked him for his clarity.
The last confrontation was not Gabinya’s doing, but Liket’s. Outside the schoolhouse, before the session even began, Liket stopped Misus Bay-con the moment she arrived. With her cousin translating, Liket asked in Lemond’s language if Misus Bay-con knew where she was leading the children. Misus Bay- con answered that she was lifting the children from below the ground. Liket then asked how Misus Bay-con could lift children who hadn’t yet fallen, and if she didn’t have to trip the children first.
didn’t fully understand Liket’s questions in either language, but Misus Bay-con apparently did, because she burst into tears and ran from the schoolhouse instead of entering it. Belle-may, also upset, ran after Misus Bay-con to console her, and Gabinya ran after Belle-may. Muns and I left the gathering and ran back to the Firekeepers’ village; we both knew there would be no more school. But we mistakenly thought Liket had brought the end by humiliating Misus Bay-con; we soon learned that the end wasn’t Liket’s doing; it was Gabinya’s.
The day after the confrontation in front of the schoolhouse, Monlk came to gather us all at Pier’s; she didn’t say why. I saw, for the first time, the inside of the great lodge that stood beyond the northern edge of the Firekeepers’ village, the lodge my sister called Lemond, the center of her world. I remembered she was born in that lodge. It was also the first time I met Monik’s sister Margit, although, like everyone else, I thought I’d met her before, because I had seen her sister Jozet at Namakwe’s burial.
Margit led me to a place in the councilroom, the room my sister called the salon. Margit’s face expressed a combination of amusement and apprehension; she already knew the purpose of the gathering. Margit was Belle-may’s foster-mother, second wife of Scalper Jay-may.
The room filled up. Everyone I knew on the Strait was there except the Firekeepers and the Turtlefolk. Pier himself sat in a corner, said nothing, and seemed more like a guest than a host. Margit’s twin Jozet was there as well as her husband, Scalper Wit-nags. Liket and all her cousins were there. Sofi was there with Felice and Marikwe’s four, but Marikwe and Lesoter were not there. Almost all of the other schoolchildren were there, as well as Misus Bay-con herself.
Without any preliminaries, Jay-may announced why he had gathered us all there. He said Belle-may, the daughter of his first marriage, couldn’t be found. He’d spent the entire night looking for her. Another person who couldn’t be found was Gabinya.
Muns burst out laughing and I couldn’t keep myself from joining him. Everything became clear to me. Gabinya had run
Iter Belle-may to console her, and he must have gone on consol- ing her until she agreed to run off with him. Monik must have known something like this would happen when she recruited Gabinya to be Belle-may’s helper. Everyone in the room was laughing, except the Scalpers. Jay-may was red with rage. He said his daughter had eloped with a man twice her age, and he hlamed Misus Bay-con for allowing such a thing to happen.
Misus Bay-con pointed her finger at Chebansi, but she was so distraught she couldn’t speak. Scalper Wit-nags accused Chebansi of leading the schoolchildren to what he called a witches’ sabbath in Karontaen, and of instigating a conspiracy to destroy Misus Bay-con’s school. Jay-may shouted at Chebansi, calling him a vicious character and threatening him with punishments.
Almost everyone in the room knew that Chebansi had done none of the instigating, that he’d merely guided a few of us to Isador’s hearth. But Chebansi didn’t defend himself. He just sat and sweated; soon he started trembling. I could see that he was netting sick.
Sofi leaped from her seat, lunged at Misus Bay-con, called her a liar, and said the only conspiracy was the one hatched by Misus Bay-con and her Rev-rend together with the Strait’s Scalpers. It took the combined strength of Jay-may and Wit- nags to keep Sofi from scratching the frightened Misus Bay-con. One of the Scalpers advised Pier to make his salon more selective. The old man didn’t acknowledge hearing the advice, but Soli' stormed out of the room. Felice ran out after Sofi; I could tell she was ashamed, not of the Scalper’s insult, but of her mother’s behavior.
Chebansi left next, bent over and shaking; Liket helped, and almost carried him out of the room. All laughter had long since died. Only Jay-may’s voice cut through the stony silence. He spoke of orgies and perversions; he threatened punishments. He continued to blame Chebansi for Belle-may’s disappearance, but after Liket left the room he put some of the blame on her. He said the crosswearers wanted to destroy Misus Bay-con’s school so as to replace it with a school of their own. At last he threatened to break the nest of conspirators, as he called us, into splinters.
Wedasi and I wanted to join our sick brother, but Jay-may and Wit-nags kept us from him. We returned, with Muns and Pezhki, to the Firekeepers’ village. I couldn’t believe what had happened. The Scalpers surely knew what Rev-rend Bay-con had done to Lesoter and Sofi and their kin in Mishilimakina. They surely also knew that Sofi and Lesoter were the ones who had conspired and instigated, and with good reasons. Yet the Scalpers had put all the blame on our brother. Wedasi thought he knew why Chebansi had been singled out. Lesoter, Anto’s son, was the host’s nephew. Sofi had been regarded as a niece by Anto, and undoubtedly was by Pier. On the other hand Chebansi was the son of distant trader Burr-net, and the Strait’s Scalpers surely knew that Burr-net would not stand by his son. They singled out Chebansi, not because he was the instigator, but because he was a convenient victim.
Topinbi and Shando were still on the Strait, ready to carry their load of gifts to Bison Prairie. They were asked to delay their departure until Jay-may implemented his threat and broke up the nest of conspirators. When the gift-caravan finally left, our brother and sister as well as our friends left with it. Chebansi remained ill, and Jay-may insisted he return to Bison Prairie for medicine. Wabnokwe was yanked out of her beloved Lemond and told to nurse her brother during the journey. Bijiki was going to accompany the caravan as far as Kekionga, and he took Muns and Pezhki with him. Wedasi and I were left at Mikenokwe’s.
Wedasi was again able to join his Karontaen uncles, especially Wakaya, in their councils and on their hunts; he went with Pamoko’s canoe, sometimes with Nawak’s horse. The animosity between Turtlefolk and Firekeepers died down, although Nawak himself did not join his downstream cousins. Wedasi spent his days in Karontaen but didn’t want to be adopted into one ofthe longhouses, as Wakaya had been. He was disappointed. When we’d first arrived on the Strait, Wedasi had expected the Strait’s warriors to be preparing for their next encounter with the Invaders.
His first disappointment had been Nawak’s capitulation to Scalper Wit-nags’ invasion of Tiosa Rondion. He’d thought the Turtlefolk had moved downstream in order to rally their forces. Now he knew that their councils were not war councils; they too had capitulated. Wedasi still preferred to hunt with Wakaya and Isador, but on two or three occasions that winter he joined I he Firekeepers Nawak and Dupre. On those occasions I went along with my bow. I went for the stillness of the frozen forest and for the glimpses of deer bounding over the snow. And I went to hear Nawak repeat his stories about his uncles Aleshi and Mini and his father Bati, about their wars against the Redcoats who invaded the Strait, about their alliance with those very Kedcoats against the United Scalpers, and about their allies’ betrayal at the field of fallen trees.
Nawak told how he shielded his injured father Bati while I lie bullets whistled over them, how he guided his father past I lie fallen trees to the gate of the Redcoats’ fort, how his father expired in his arms while the Redcoats refused to open the gate to the injured warrior. That betrayal permanently cooled Nawak’s rage against the Scalpers who had killed so many of his kin.
During these hunts I stayed close to Nawak, away from I >npre, whenever they separated. Nawak would follow tracks, and when he sighted an animal he would pause, listen, watch, drop some tobacco and whisper to the animal’s spirit, and only then set out after the prey. And as soon as he had enough to feed Inn village kin, he’d stop, build a fire, and talk.
Dupre’s ways repelled me. As soon as he saw tracks, his face lil up with greed and he ran. If he spotted several animals, he killled and went on killing, with no offerings to their spirits and withh no thought to the needs of the village, as if his killing-stick were out of his control; I knew that the Scalpers hunted like I hat. Nawak and the others helped Dupre lug all the dead animals to the village. Pamoko and the other women dried the meat and dressed the furs, which Dupre then carried to the SI rail’s traders. He returned with more powder, cloth, food and whiskey than anyone in the village could use.
Toward the end of that winter, Mikenokwe told us that Misus Bay-con and her Rev-rend had left the Strait, and that Liket and her crosswearing friends were preparing to launch a school of their own. Mikenokwe beamed as she told of Liket’s intentions, and I saw that my aunt differed in yet another way from her Karontaen cousins. I remembered that Isador and the Turtlefolk who’d heard Sofi had expressed revulsion not only toward Misus Bay-con, but also toward the daily gatherings of children in a school.
My sister returned to the Strait with Topinbi, Shando and the Bison Prairie furs soon after the birds returned from the south. Wabnokwe promptly reinstalled herself in Pier’s lodge, but she was friendlier toward her coconspirators than she had been earlier. She told us Chebansi was well, that his departure from the Strait was the medicine that cured him. She told us of an unpleasant encounter she and Chebansi had had with a Scalper who had lodged himself on the Lakebottom. And she told us the content of the talking leaves Topinbi delivered to Jay-may.
On one of these leaves, Burr-net said he hadn’t known his son Chebansi was such a vicious character, and he thanked Jay-may for letting him know. Burr-net then said he did not want his third son, Wedasi, to become another idler, shirker and poet, and he begged Jay-may to bind Wedasi. Wabnokwe had no idea what the binding entailed, but she was sure our father did not want his third son cut up and eaten. The leaf didn’t as much as mention me, and I supposed my father considered me unredeemable; by the time Agibicocona taught me to hide, Burr-net had already seen me.
Wedasi alternated between wanting to flee to Wakaya’s and wanting to prove himself strong enough to withstand the mysterious binding, which didn’t long remain a mystery. It wasn’t Cheater Jay-may who revealed the nature of the binding, but our oldest brother Nashkowatak. During all our sessions on the Strait, we had merely glimpsed Nashkowatak going in or out of Pier’s lodge, or near the fort in the company of armed Scalpers. Chebansi had told us Nashkowatak had been transformed into a Scalper who didn’t know his own brothers, and Nashkowatak’s long avoidance of us confirmed the description. But I saw right away that Chebansi had exaggerated.
Nashkowatak may have been trying hard to be a Scalper, but he had avoided us because he’d been ashamed to face us in his blue uniform and cropped hair. My oldest brother was the same person I remembered from the days when our grandmother Katabwe still lived. He hadn’t then given the impression of being sure of himself, and he seemed even less sure of h i mself now. When Chebansi had first led us to the schoolhouse, he’d been reluctant and self-justifying. Nashkowatak was even more so.
He told Wedasi that the binding simply meant that Wedasi was to assist Jay-may in the Cheater’s store. Nashkowatak would accompany Wedasi to the store if Wedasi wanted to go ( here, but he told us he would neither convince nor coerce.
Wedasi left Mikenokwe’s, and when Shando and Topinbi returned to Bison Prairie, I was alone. I played with Pamoko’s little son, accompanied Mikenokwe to the cornfield, watched I ’amoko dress furs or went with her to gather herbs. Wabnokwe and Beth and their cousins, as well as Sharlokwe, Rina and I'Vlice, went to Liket’s school. Only girls went there. Most of the hoys I’d met at Misus Bay-con’s gatherings now went daily to listen to the Strait’s Blackrobe, a cadaverous man who looked like a hungry vulture; I felt sorry for them.
I didn’t exist for Burr-net, but Cheater Jay-may remembered that I was still in the Firekeepers’ village, and when the leaves began to fall, Nashkowatak visited again. He told me I could either join the boys who attended the Blackrobe’s gatherings, or I could join Wedasi in the Cheater’s store, but I couldn’t l’,o on watching Pamoko gather herbs. Both of my aunts agreed, no I didn’t ask Nashkowatak why. I had started to miss Wedasi mid decided to share his binding.
Jay-may seemed pleased; he beamed when I entered the ittore. He assured me that he had once been a boy himself, and I hat he understood what he called my restless love of wilderness mikI my heedless freedom. But, he said, I was now old enough to close up those sources of corruption. Order would regenerate me, he said. And since I hadn’t acquired order from Misus Bay-con, I would surely acquire it from work. He warned me that I would not like the work any better than Wedasi did, but he promised that as soon as I reaped the reward, I would acquire the habit, then the taste, and finally the need for work.
I saw right away that Wedasi had not yet acquired either the habit or the taste, but Wedasi hadn’t yet reaped any rewards. When the Cheater stepped out, Wedasi showed me the types of rewards Jay-may and other Cheaters liked to reap. Wedasi showed me a chest full of decorated shell-belts and paper leaves and round stones, whole or cut up into halves, quarters and eighths. The round stones were so-called coins that came from the Invaders called Senyores, the people among whom Liket and her brother had grown on the sunset shore of the Long River. These objects were the things Misus Bay-con had urged us to reach out for and save. We were amused by the thought that Jay-may carried a Misus Bay-con inside him; he was certainly big enough.
Wedasi had already learned to keep track of the beaver furs and coins that were brought in, and of the blankets, decorated plates and other things that were carried out. He told me Jay- may was greedy about the gifts that were brought in, but stingy about those that went out, and that his stinginess had a reason, Misus Bay-con’s reason. The gifts Jay-may held back from every visitor to the store were Jay-may’s savings. He hoarded them. And the hoard itself was a power. The hoard could transform itself into houses or boats or even portions of earth. Jay-may was as fond of his hoard as I was of my medicine bundle. But unlike my bundle, Jay-may’s hoard wasn’t freely given to him by his kin, but was wrenched from people he treated as enemies, and instead of linking him to the people he lived among, it severed him from them. Every gift-exchange in the store was a hostile act, and neither Jay-may’s frozen grin nor his day-long repetition of the same joke disguised his relation to his visitors: he was at war with them.
Jay-may’s war was not the type of war Wedasi had dreamed of. This was no heroic affair; it was sordid. Wedasi and I began to understand how our own father had related to Bison Prairie’s villagers before Cakima had taken charge of the gift-giving and transformed Burr-net from a stingy enemy to a generous kinsman. Wedasi and I decided to do for Jay-may what Cakima had done for Burr-net. Cheater or no, Jay-may was, after all, our kinsman, however distantly related.
We had our chance when Jay-may, Wit-nags and other Scalpers left the Strait to visit a fur-gatherers’ center called I'it-strength. Wedasi was left in charge of the store, with me as assistant and errand-runner. Wedasi and I promptly rearranged the gifts, prominently displaying things that Jay-may generally kept hidden. And we urged all visitors to take whatever they needed not only to pursue the hunt, but also to satisfy their kin. Most of the Strait’s inhabitants who visited the store glanced at us suspiciously and took no more than Jay-may would have given them. But the hunters from Karontaen, Morn- ingland, Sagi Bay and further north were highly pleased. Their esteem for Jay-may rose immensely. Some of the hunters knew who we were, and they told us such generosity had not existed on the Strait since the days of our great-grandfathers Mota and Ozagi. These hunters spread the word to their k i nsmen, and they too were pleased to leave us their furs and to accept our gifts. And Wedasi conscientiously kept track of all that was brought and all that was taken, as he’d been taught.
When Jay-may returned, the store was full of beaver furs, tobacco pouches, shell belts and decorated sashes, but things
like blankets, powder, beads, cloth and plates were all depleted. Jay-may beamed when he saw the fur piles; he shook our hands; he called Wedasi a sharp businessman. But when he looked at I lie ledger his face changed color. He looked at the ledger a necond time, and his face became green. He leered at Wedasi. I wanted to tell him that his esteem had risen, but before I could formulate a word, a stream of abuse began to pour from Jay-may’s mouth, most of it unintelligible, but all of it loud. I caught words like thief and criminal and bad stock; I understood that • lay-may was saying Wedasi and I were evil characters, just like <'hebansi, and that our brother Nashkowatak was well placed m t he Invaders’ fort where he could do no harm to Jay-may’s ill ore.
Jay-may’s shouting attracted others to the store, and soon Wedasi and I were surrounded by Scalper Wit-nags and his In ot her, by the Scabeater Jo Kampo, by several uniformed men, and all of them were shouting at us. All at once we were grabbed and pulled toward a room at the back of the store, a room that Itiul always been locked. Jay-may opened the lock, had two chests removed, and had us thrown in. The last thing I heard him say was that a lengthy lock-up would give us salutary ideas and would break our attachment to savage customs.
The room was barely large enough for us to stretch out on its floor; it had obviously been built to hold the two chests, which must have contained things Jay-may wanted no one to see. The room had one small window, which was high as well as barred; we had to stand on each other’s shoulders to see out, and then we only saw the wall of the next-door lodge. Someone sawed off a small piece of the heavy door at the lower corner, and we were able to push our excrement out through the hole. We were given bread and water through the same hole.
Wedasi was in a continual rage; he couldn’t sleep. He had tried to do the man a favor; he would never try that again. He talked continually of confronting the Scalpers on a battlefield; Wedasi and his armed companions would surround Jay-may and Wit-nags as they had surrounded us. Wedasi was so agitated he became feverish. I urged him to do as I did. I leaned against the wall, looked up toward the window and imagined myself in a cave or fasting lodge. And I slept.
I tried to help Wedasi dream by showing him the objects in the bundle that had once been Nanikibi’s. But these objects only further agitated him. He saw the bound fishbones as ourselves, and he was sure this was what Burr-net had intended when he’d asked Jay-may to bind his third son. He examined the shell, listened to it, and said that it begged him to stop the Jay-mays from turning the world into beach-sand. Wedasi fondled the feather; he placed it in his hair knot and said it was part of the headdress of a western warrior. And he pushed the two scrolls aside resentfully, saying that they couldn’t speak to us but only to people who had long been dead, people as unlike to us as we were to Jay-may.
I slept, and I was still on the threshold of a dream when I felt Wedasi furiously shaking me. Smoke poured into the room through the edges of the door and even through the crevices of the walls. My nose filled with the smell of burnt wood and burnt leather. Soon I was choking. Wedasi and I looked at each other with fear in our eyes: we were going to be burnt alive. Only now did Wedasi’s restlessness leave him. He became calm for the first time since our lock-up. He stood up, folded his arms, and stared ahead of him, ready to face whatever tortures his enemies devised. I didn’t share either his determination or his courage; I coughed, cried, shouted, banged on the walls and door.
Wedasi’s bravery went untested. Suddenly the heavy door opened. Outside it stood Margit’s father Pier, Lemond’s Pier, our sister’s host, dead Nizokwe’s brother. I almost flew out toward the old man. He rushed us out to the street where he and a cousin of his, an old woman called Cecil, pulled and pushed us toward the Strait’s shore. The old woman was choked from the mnoke and from crying; she kept saying the Barbarian, as she ch I led Jay-may, would have Wedasi and me roast. As we rushed Inward the water, the lodge next to the store caught on fire. I'Vom the canoe it looked like the entire west was on fire.
All of the Strait’s inhabitants hurried to the safety of the water, listening to the crackle of the flames, watching walls fall, weing their village burn to the ground. Wedasi and I, and the t wo old people who saved us, had been among the last to push off from shore. When the flames died down, canoes headed northward or across the Strait, toward the cornfields of the inhabitants. Pier paddled us toward the Firekeepers’ village, to the limdingplace by his lodge.
By the time we landed, both Pier and Cecil were so overwrought they had to be helped out of the canoe and into the great lodge. Wedasi and I were surrounded by Wabnokwe, Monik and nil the other young women in Liket’s school. They had just returned from a journey to the Beautiful Valley. They plied us with questions about the fire’s origin and cause, questions Wedasi and I couldn’t answer. And soon Wedasi and I were forgotten; the homeless refugees all had problems of their own. TI.e gatherings in front of Pier’s lodge and Wit-nags’ lodge overflowed onto the Firekeepers’ councilground.
That night Wedasi and I slept outside of Mikenokwe’s lodge, which was crowded to bursting with Liket and her father as well as her brother and his wife. Lesoter and Marikwe and I heir daughters as well as Sofi and Felice all crowded into I’nmoko’s; Marikwe’s sons shared Nawak’s small lodge. I learned that Beth had gone to Karontaen while her mother Isabel and her Gore-nags and their son moved in with Wit-nags mid Jozet. I also learned that Jay-may was safe at Pier’s, and had been at Pier’s during the entire conflagration, because Mnrgit had been giving birth to a son. I didn’t know how Pier had come to possess a key to the trader’s back room, but I knew I lint, Jay-may’s joy from the birth of his new son would have been Hrenter if Pier had returned with two chests and a barrel of rums, and not with Wedasi and me.
Wedasi and I prepared a gift for the two old people who saved us, but while we pondered how we would get past Jay-may into the great lodge, we learned that Pier was dead. Cecil had died a few days earlier. We wondered if the effect of pulling us out of the burning village took their last strength. Wedasi and 1 were forgotten during the burial ceremonies. We were both determined to join Topinbi’s caravan to Bison Prairie. When our uncle finally arrived with the furs and talking leaves, Jay-may made a show of carrying through with his punishment of Wedasi. He assigned Wedasi to the militia of Kekionga. He obviously knew that Kekionga would be the first stop of Topinbi’s homeward-bound caravan. Wedasi smiled, as did most others, including Jay-may’s wife. Margit and her kin were not ready to tolerate further punishment of us, and they were relieved by Jay-may’s pretense that our departure was further punishment. On the day we left, Margit brought me a food bundle and a kiss. She had caught me off my guard on the night of her father’s and aunt’s burial, when all the mourners had gathered in the great lodge; I had stood by her music box enraptured by the sound, transported out of myself. I realized that Margit was not one of the people I needed to hide from, and 1 wondered how she had come to be the Cheater’s wife.
I had tears in my eyes when our canoe pulled away from the Firekeepers’ shore. At first I thought my tears were for Wab- nokwe, Sharlokwe, Lesoter and Marikwe, for Soft and Margit, for Pamoko and her son Jon Dupre. But tears kept flowing, and as the figures blurred and vanished, I realized I was crying because my birthplace had become a prison. The prison had burnt down, and sensible people would have taken the fire as an omen. But I knew, from numerous overheard words, from the very expressions on faces, that those on the Strait were determined to rebuild their prison, and neither the kindly Pier nor his cousin Cecil would be there to pull me out of it.
We followed the same route I had traveled once before, soon after my birth, when I hadn’t known the name of the lake nor that of the river, when I hadn’t known that my greatgrandfathers Ozagi and Mota had once hunted in the Kekionga forests where few animals now stirred. This time I knew what I was seeing. Shores that had once been gatheringplaces of Firekeepers and Prairiekin were desolate. The innumerable villages my grandmother had described were mounds of refuse, their charred remains still showing through greening plants growing out of them. The lone living village we finally reached was no Kekionga, for to me the name still signified a place too vast to see or shout across. This village was bounded on one side by the visible Scalpers’ fort, on another by traders’ stores, on the third by square lodges of Invaders, and on the fourth by corn fields one didn’t need to shout across in order to be heard.
Neither Wedasi nor I were surprised that our welcoming |mrty included our uncle Gabinya and the vanished Belle-may, who had already given birth to a daughter named Anabel. But we were surprised to learn that Belle-may shared a lodge with Gabinya’s first wife Nebeshkwe and his first daughter Sukwe. Wodasi couldn’t keep himself from asking Belle-may if she’d considered what Misus Bay-con would have thought of her new lodge.
My attentions were drawn elsewhere, for my friend Muns wiim also in Kekionga, and he quickly pulled Wedasi and me next door, through the store of Gabinya’s brother Atsimet and Into the lodge of Muns’s aunt Chindiskwe. A few doors from Atsitmet lodged my uncle Aptegizhek, son of Lokaskwe and OiiHhi, whom I had never met.
I had thought Muns was further south in distant Pxqua, but I hiiw that he, his mother Mekinges and his father Onimush wore not in Kekionga on a visit; they were there to stay, as were I ho ot her Eastbranch refugees I noticed in Kekionga, all newly- mrived and in temporary lodges. Muns’s father and uncle had nlii'ady raised a store on the edge of the village, next to the lodge mid store of the traitor Will-well, Wakaya’s and Meteya’s false In ot her, Sigenak’s false son. I was anxious to ask Muns why he and his kin had abandoned Piqua. But Topinbi and Shando had «|irend the story of our near-burning on the Strait, and we were surrounded by the attentions of the Eastbranch women, all of whom descended from kin who’d died by burning.
Wedasi and I had seen strangely-clad men moving in the Kek ionga cornfields, and Wedasi asked the Eastbranch women if they shared Kekionga with the strangers whose square lodges hounded the fields. Chindiskwe told us the strangers were not permanent settlers, and they were not Scalpers. She said they called themselves Friends and were as peaceful as the Brethren who hovered around villages of Eastbranch survivors.
These Friends had come to Kekionga at the time Gabinya liml brought Belle-may from the Strait. Topinbi was in Kekionga when they arrived, and he smoked with the Friends and accepted their gifts. Atsimet also accepted their gifts; Will- well and Belle-may embraced them as kinsmen. The Friends said they had come to show the Kekiongans how to plant corn. Chindiskwe was wary and Aptegizhek was openly hostile. Aptegizhek told the strange men they would be wiser to take their peaceful ways to their own people, who were destroying more corn than the Friends could help grow in Kekionga. But the Friends were as stubborn as raccoons, and they stayed.
The first spring after the Friends’ arrival, Chindiskwe was taken up with her and Atsimet’s newborn daughter Mabuzkwe, and she watched the strangers from her lodge. She could see that the Friends were hurting the land, that they understood nothing about cornplanting. She could also see that they treated the land as a hated enemy; they fought with the land until sweat poured from their bodies, as if they were torturing themselves to show their endurance, day after day from sunrise to nightfall. The corn that grew on their stunted plants was unpalatable, there wasn’t enough of it to store, and that winter the women almost starved while they waited for their hunters to return. The sly Will-well was happy with the arrangement, because the hunters took their furs to him in exchange for his eastern corn and flour.
The following spring Chindiskwe and the other women reclaimed their fields, but the Friends wouldn’t budge, wouldn’t listen to the women. The Friends said women should only spin and weave, men should learn to grow corn. Of course not a single man joined the Friends in the fields. The men, hunters, carriers or traders, knew that the Friends hated the land, did not regard the land as the corn’s mother, did not see themselves as midwives, and had no love for the child. The men knew that the Friends, like all other Scalpers, considered cornplanting a chore and a punishment and that among the Invaders, the planting was done by penitents, prisoners and slaves. The men had no desire to be turned into slaves; they avoided the fields as they would have avoided a plague.
That spring, Will-well and the armed Scalpers of the fort had kept the women from their own fields. But now that her sister Mekinges and the other Piqua refugees were in Kekionga, Chindiskwe and the women were determined to reclaim their fields and force the Friends to heed Aptegizhek’s advice.
When at last we were alone with Muns, Wedasi and I plied him with questions, anxious to learn what had driven his kin to (heir Kekionga refuge. Muns reminded us of things he’d told us on the Strait. The rift in his mother’s village began before his uncle Bijiki took Muns to the Strait. It began when Bijiki returned from the east, transformed by eastern sorcery or flattery. Bijiki had no allies in Piqua; even his brother Onimush, Muns’s father, was at best a faltering ally; Bijiki’s nearest ally was Will-well in distant Kekionga. It was Will-well who let Bijiki know of Misus Bay-con’s school on the Strait. Bijiki hoped to make allies of his son and nephew by having them be transformed as he had been. Bijiki was disappointed. The experiences on the Strait made both Muns and Pezhki more hostile to the Scalpers than they’d been before. As soon as he returned to Piqua, Muns renewed his friendship with Wapmimi’s and Hliawanokwe’s children Ojejok and Omemekwe, both of whom ilrramt of the day when the war to oust the Invaders would rt'Hiime.
Bijiki’s wife Shabomekwe had joined her sister in Wapmimi’s lodge when Bijiki had taken her older son away, and Bijiki’s two sons, Pezhki and Kezhek, stayed close to their mol.her and befriended Ojejok despite Bijiki’s attempts to confine them to his store. Bijiki remained as isolated as he’d been lirloro, and when Will-well invited him to attend a council on Ihi' Wabash, Bijiki went accompanied only by his brother (limnush and two Eastbranch men whose sole interest was to ilrink; Mekinges called these men rumsacks.
Bijiki and his small caravan returned to Piqua laden with gifts and soon after the gifts were distributed, the plague broke mil in Piqua. One of every four villagers died of it, among them Pezhki’s mother Shabomekwe. Numerous Southbranch kin, Including Shawanokwe and Wapmimi, said the plague arrived willi Bijiki’s gifts. Confrontations began.
Muns was relieved when several of his schoolmates from I lie Strait, including my sister, passed through Piqua with Liketm ‘i i rch of the Beautiful V alley’s burial mounds. Muns escaped liom t he tension by guiding the young women to the mounds. When he returned to Piqua, Muns found yet greater tension. (fixs here - editor T@L)
Guests had arrived from the Wabash. One of these guests wiim Wapmimi’s brother Gizes, Sigenak’s oldest son; another, Hlmwnnokwe’s and dead Shabomokwe’s cousin, a man consid- m oil a prophet on the Wabash. These men came with two aims: lo warn their kin of the Invaders’ gifts, and to confront the hoi errors who had accepted gifts for ceding Wabash lands to the Scalpers. Everyone in Piqua except Bijiki and Onimush was bitter about the Invaders’ gifts, and all joined the guests in a dance of renewal. The dancers became frenzied; Ojejok and other youths painted themselves; gifts were burned; and finally the two rumsacks who had accompanied Bijiki to the Wabash were carried to the center, both dead.
Piqua ceased to be a village and became a battlefield. Ojejok and other Southbranch youths, Wapmimi and his brother as well as Shawanokwe and Omemekwe, confronted Bijiki and Onimush with weapons in hand. Mekinges and other Eastbranch women stepped between the enraged hunters and their cowed prey. Muns joined the women. His mother railed against her Southbranch cousins for adding the murder of kin to the plague’s ravages. The hostile parties moved apart, far apart. Half the villagers moved toward Mekinges’s sister’s lodge in Kekionga, the other half toward Sigenak’s on the Wabash. Bijiki forced Pezhki and Kezhek to accompany him to Kekionga; both of his sons had wanted to accompany their dead mother’s people to Kithepekanu on the Wabash.
Wedasi was spellbound. The war he’d dreamed of all his life was about to begin; I could already see its first armed clashes in his eyes. He wanted to know more about his uncle Gizes and about Shawanokwe’s prophetic cousin. Muns was surprised. He’d thought Wedasi was as peaceful as I. He told us no one in Kekionga knew more about the Wabash gathering than our uncle Aptegizhek, and he promptly led us into the next door lodge.
Katabwe had told me so much about her brother’s son that I felt like no stranger in Aptegizhek’s lodge. I felt as if I’d always known the man who’d traveled to Bison Prairie to be at her burial. His face was as she’d described it, sad and pensive, and he wore a bandanna to hide his head wound. He knew me as soon as I entered, not from my face, but from the bundle I carried; my grandfather had shared its contents with him before the battle by the fallen trees; I felt the bundle should be his, not mine; As if he’d guessed my thought, he told me to guard the bundle well, and he showed me a scroll similar to the crumbling one in my bundle; he told me his scroll spoke of the wanderings of the eastern kin who had adopted his mother Lokaskwe.
Aptegizhek answered Wedasi’s questions, but not in ways that pleased Wedasi. Aptegizhek went back to the days that followed the battle by the fallen trees, the days when the Kekionga warriors gathered in Piqua to make peace with the Scalpers. The peace was a sham, a humiliation ceremony, and all knew it. When the ceremony ended, the traitor Well-well added insult to injury by inviting Sigenak to travel to the east to meet the so-called jFather of the United Scalpers. To everyone’s surprise, Sigenak accepted the invitation. Will-well and others took Sigenak to the major centers of Witchburners, Cheaters und Slavers. fjhey showed Sigenak immense lodges made of stone and wide paths teeming with wheeled carriages, and they showed him man-made caves where human beings devoted the waking part of their lives to making firesticks.
Sigenak was taken east to be intimidated; he was to return to his people with the message that the Scalpers were rocks and we were mere dust. Sigenak may have been surprised by the extent of the enslavement of human beings to mindless tasks, but he wasn’t intimidated. He began to speak out.
He told the Invaders that human beings weren’t made to languish in prisons of their own making. He told them no ani- ' muls crippled and stunted its own kind, and no animal embarked on a war against any and all creatures that were u n 1 ike itself. He warned them that any who embarked on such a war would turn the very elements against them and would gag on the air, be poisoned by the water and be swallowed up by earth. Crowds gathered whenever Sigenak spoke.]
Sigenak saw them listen, but he soon realized they didn’t hear, couldn’t hear, because something inside them was twisted. Many introduced themselves to him, offered themselves to him. Some wanted to teach Sigenak’s people the ways of peace, others wanted to teach cornplanting, yet others wanted to teach clothmaking or lodgebuilding. Themselves without a t enter or a direction, they all offered to guide others. And when Sigenak returned to his village on the Wabash, all these well- meaning people followed him, passing through Kekionga on their way.
Aptegizhek delayed all of them long enough to urge them to linn around and to spread their teaching among people who needed to be taught. But they heard Aptegizhek the same way lliey’d heard Sigenak: not at all. First came the Brethren, ileMcendants of the well-meaning preachers among whom Aptegizhek spent his childhood. The Brethren joined the ileHcendants of their earlier converts in Piqua. Then came the Kt lends, with their ears even further clogged and their vision yet more narrow than their predecessors. The Friends stayed in Kekionga and deprived the women of their fields.
After the Friends came people who called themselves Dancers. These people saw and heard more than their predecessors; they knew Earth as the mother of all life, and not as an object that could be fenced off for a bottle of rum; they also knew that living was enjoyment, that all living beings danced, and that those who ceased to dance no longer lived. But although their ears were less stopped up than those of the Friends and Brethren, the Dancers did not hear Aptegizhek tell them that the lifeless ones, the ones who needed the Dancers, were in the east. The Dancers insisted on going west, to Kithepekanu on the Wabash.
Sigenak’s son Gizes danced with them, and Shawanokwe’s cousin danced with them. It was during one of their dances that Shawanokwe’s cousin had his vision: he saw his own Southbranch kin and all their cousins and uncles and nephews reconstitute themselves and regain their strength, with no further need for the Invaders’ rum or cloth or firesticks. He became a prophet. His hearing unclogged and his vision broadened, but like the Dancers who inspired him, he heard only a little more and saw only a little further than before.
Before his vision he had placed his mark on innumerable leaves so as to drown himself in the Invaders’ whiskey; after his vision he cast his eyes on the nearest kinsman who marked leaves for the sake of whiskey, he squinted and called his kinsman a sorcerer, and his followers promptly sent the sorcerer to the land of the dead.
Wedasi insisted that it was necessary to dispatch the sorcerers who gave away our lands, and that our uncles Gizes and Wapmimi had done well to join the prophet on the Wabash.
Aptegizhek reminded Wedasi that our uncle Topinbi was the first among the treaty signers, that we descended from treaty signers Mota and Ozagi; he warned Wedasi not to leap from Wiske to Digowin; he asked if Wedasi dreamed of helping reconstitute villages, or of depopulating them.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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