The Strait : Chapter 9 : Obenabi's second journey
(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.)
I arrived at the Leaning Tree village with my nephew Mikinak, Wedasi’s son. The council Mikinak had wanted to attend was already under way. As soon as we banked our canoe, Mikinak turned his back to me and headed toward the part of the circle where the Redearth warriors sat. I saw Shabeni on the opposite side of the circle and sat down near him.
I listened to one after another Redearth warrior urge the listeners to prepare for war. I listened to the speakers on my side—old Firekeepers, northern Rootkin, Leaning Tree carriers, Shabeni among them—decline the invitation to war, ridicule the Redearth speakers, warn of the prospects of such a war. My head agreed with the councils spoken from my side, but my heart went across the fire to the Redearth warriors.
I stared at the ground; I felt no pride from sitting near Shabeni. I felt like rising, not to speak but to dance, and to scatter shells while dancing. Only my eyes rose; they wandered across the fire toward the Redearth warriors; they came to resl on the face of a woman. The face, framed by long and straight black hair, was terribly familiar. Fierce eyes, lit by the fire and the full moon, appeared to be looking directly into mine. I tried to rise and cross to the other side, but the ground under me started shaking, the people across from me started spinning, the fire crackled and sent bullets and arrows flying over my head. The pain in my arm returned and my strength oozed out of me. I lay on the ground limp, powerless, my face in a pool, drowning. The last thing I heard was a drawling voice asking Cant ya see sur t’ant no cheef but a yaller skwa—nuthin but a yaller skwa.
When I could hear again, I was sure I was in the land ol the dead. I heard speech in every language familiar to me, and in several I had never before heard. Hesitantly opening mv eyes, I saw that I was on a blanket-covered floor of :m enormous longhouse. The men and women who moved amonc the corpses were recognizable as Southbranch and Eastbranch kin, as Firekeepers and Turtlefolk. The blankets themselves were covered by what seemed like corpses which were awakening, as I was, and all of them had things to say, either to each other or to those moving among them.
People who must have been Turtlefolk of the eastern Woodlands spoke to Turtlefolk of the Lakes in the language ol the Redcoats; Firekeepers from the Strait spoke to Redearth and Plains people in the language of Lemond. Eastbranch kin who lived in Morningland spoke to Southbranch kin from the Beautiful Valley in the completely unintelligible language of the Brethren who had once lodged on the Tuscarawas. I caughi familiar words, but their meanings passed me by. The chaos of languages dizzied me. I closed my eyes and tried to shut my ears.
I remembered becoming dizzy from a similar chaos when I was a boy, in Mishilimakina. The din had become rhythm i< like the flapping of wings, and the wings had become my own enabling me to rise above the din. I began to feel as I had then like an eagle, but when I began to flap my wings, I cried oui from pain. My right arm felt as if it were on fire.
I was aware that someone was sitting on the blanket beside me; I opened my eyes, sure that I would see the northern medicinewoman, Agibicocona. Staring at the sticks tied up with my arm, then at the arrowhead dangling in front of my face, I cried out again. The arrowhead moved away, and I saw the face of the person who wore it. The face wasn’t Agibicocona’s; it was my uncle Wakaya’s. I asked him if he, too, had died on that terrible battlefield by the Morningland River’s fork. He looked sad. He told me many of our kin had died on that battlefield. But he said that he and I were alive.
I gradually realized that the people moving among the blankets were healers, and those on the blankets were not awakening corpses but injured and sick women, children and men. I noticed that the healers avoided my blanket; only Wakaya came to me. He told me my arm would recover, but I didn’t want to hear about my arm. I wanted to hear about my bride. I begged Wakaya to tell me if Udatonte had returned to Karontaen after my separation from her.
Wakaya told me that Udatonte could not have returned to Karontaen, because the same armed men who had captured me had caused the dispersal of the village. Wakaya had known the Strait’s armed men would move against Karontaen; he and his brother Wapmimi and warriors from Kithepekanu had intercepted a messenger and captured talking leaves which spoke of the Bluejackets’ intentions.
As soon as he learned that the Strait’s armed men were moving downriver, Wakaya rushed to Karontaen to urge the villagers to flee. While I was being captured, Karontaen’s Turtlefolk were dispersing in three directions. Some accompanied Wakaya and his family to the Morningland shore, others joined Wapmimi and the Wabash warriors, and the rest went with Isador to urge the Bluejackets to respect Isador’s peace belts.
By the time Wakaya rejoined Wapmimi and the other warriors, Karontan was a burial ground. The armed Bluejackets had not stopped to council with Isador about the contents of the ancient peace belts; they had massacred Isador and his peace party and left the belts in pools of blood. Scouts had carried news of this massacre to Wapmimi and the Wabash warriors, who promptly prepared to ambush the approaching Bluejackets.
It occurred to me that Nashkowatak’s having to accompany me upriver while his companions were ambushed had probably saved his life. I remembered the fuss raised by Wit-nags, whose brother was killed in that ambush. Fright ened by the ambush, or thinking themselves outnumbered, the Bluejackets on the Strait did not fire a shot when Wakaya, Wapmimi and their allies occupied the Strait’s fort. Wap- mimi’s son Ojejok and Wakaya’s Poposi could then raid Wit- nags’ horses with impunity. When Wit-nags set out to kill the horse-raiders, Wakaya and his allies imprisoned Wit-nags, Shabeni arrived from the Lakebottom with other prisoners, among them Shando and Kin-sic.
The Bluejackets had been ousted from all their strong holds on the Great Lakes. Many of the Wabash warriors returned to their villages to hunt. And while the victorious warriors were dispersing, the Bluejackets were gathering a vast revenge-seeking army in the Beautiful Valley. By then I was in Sandusky.
Wakaya told me he and his companions could have held on to the strongholds and the landpaths if their allies, the Redcoats, had held on to the waterways. But the Redcoats lost their ships and immediately prepared to retreat from the Strait. Wakaya rushed to the Morningland shore to evacuate his kin, to move them inland, toward the village of Brethren’s converts at the river’s fork. Many of the Strait’s Turtlefolk and Firekeepers had already found refuge in the Brethren’s village.
Wakaya didn’t know if Udatonte was with the refugees because he didn’t stay with them. He rejoined the warriors who were covering the Redcoat retreat. The Redcoats retreated past the fork, past the Brethren’s village, and went on retreating to the easternmost edge of the Morningland.
Wakaya, Wapmimi and the remnant Wabash warriors took their stand at the river’s fork, at the threshold to the Brethren’s village. And there most of them died. They were outnumbered, their ammunition was soon exhausted. Wakaya feared the Bluejackets would not stop at the fork; he hastened to the Brethren’s village to evacuate the refugees further east, behind the Redcoats.
The village was already under fire. Peace-seekers friendly to the Bluejackets, among them Pamoko’s man Dupre, had approached the Bluejackets with a white flag, and all had been shot. On learning of this, most of the refugees had fled eastward, but some had grabbed weapons and gone to face the murderers. Pamoko attached herself to Wakaya and begged him to accompany her to the battlefield; her young son Jon Dupre was among those who had gone to face the Bluejackets.
Wakaya and Pamoko hid in the forest and saw the Bluejackets destroy and burn the Brethren’s village, then mangle the dead bodies on the battlefield. At night, while the Bluejackets celebrated their victory, the shadows of survivors emerged from the forests. Wakaya, his brother Wapmimi, my cousin Shabeni and the Redearth warrior Macataimeshek- iakak buried the dead, lest the bodies be further mangled by day.
They buried Wakaya’s son Poposi, Wapmimi’s son Ojejok, Bijiki’s son Pezhki and Pamoko’s man Dupre. They buried Wakaya’s brother-in-law Cod-well, a Redcoat who had stayed with the warriors; they buried Gabinya’s brother Mowhawa; and before the sun rose they buried those whose bodies had been mangled, scalped, skinned.
Pamoko found her son, slightly injured and pretending to be dead. And Wakaya found me, with a bullet in my arm but breathing. Wakaya carried me to Morningland’s eastern edge, to a healing lodge in a village of Turtlefolk of the eastern Woodlands. My aunt Pamoko and other healers dressed my arm, but reluctantly. My bluejacket identified me as one of the murderers of their kin, and I deserved to die.
Wakaya removed the arrow pendant from his neck and placed it on mine. He told me that as a boy he’d thought the arrow had once belonged to a fierce Redearth warrior called Lamina. But Aptegizhek had later told him that the arrow came from a man who had not wanted to shoot a moose with a rifle. Wakaya still remembered me from the days when Wedasi and I accompanied him on a hunt; I had not wanted to hold a rifle.
I rejected Wakaya’s gift. I reminded him I had come to the Morningland with the Bluejackets; I was his son’s murderer. Wakaya smiled; he told me he had seen my bundle of unused arrows beside me on the battlefield; it had been full.
I was separated from Wakaya when armed men herded me out of the infirmary and penned me up with men who wore blue uniforms. Wakaya had told me that Redcoats and Bluejackets had agreed to exchange prisoners, and he had warned that I would not be treated well, but I wouldn’t be killed. We were treated like cattle. Lines of armed Redcoats shouted, pushed, kicked, locked us in boxes, then released and pushed us further. My arm wound filled with pus and I became delirious.
When I woke up, I thought I was dreaming again. I was in another infirmary, and the healers were familiar to me: they were my sister Wabnokwe and her friends Beth, Liket and others I hadn’t seen since we were children in Misus Bay-con’s school. My sister was alongside me as soon as I woke. She asked if I had really fought alongside the Bluejackets, or if 1 had found my uniform after the last battle. She’d heard that Wakaya had returned to Karontaen wearing a blue uniform, so as to get past the border guards, and kin who knew which side he’d fought on were now calling him Bluejacket.
Wabnokwe seemed to have changed; the contempt I had once seen in her eyes was no longer there. She told me the absence of the Turtlefolk and of the other comgrowers had caused a famine on the Strait, that the infirmary was full of children suffering from hunger, and that the renewal of Karontaen’s cornfields was the medicine the children needed. The child on the mat next to mine, a little girl called Sue, wa.s the granddaughter of Sofi, daughter of snobbish Felice.
With my right arm in a sling and my bundle under my blue jacket, I left my mat to a hungry child and accompanied my sister to Jay-may’s house. A feast was prepared to celebrate my return. Jay-may was actually warm toward me, and praised me for having come to my senses. He didn’t look at my face, but only at the blue uniform, and he didn’t probe into my heroic deeds. His daughters Anna-may and Greta-may also saw only the uniform. Margit as well as her son Jim-may, already a youth, smiled conspiratorially; they assumed my bluejacket was a mere disguise.
As soon as my arm was out of its sling, Wabnokwe and 1 went to seek our brother, Nashkowatak. Wabnokwe had told me that Nashkowatak had returned soon after the last battle, and that he had avoided her and Jay-may and all his former companions. Wabnokwe hadn’t known of Nashkowatak’s return until he turned up at Jay-may’s to demand that our cousin Shando be released from prison. Shando had been imprisoned by the Redcoats, and when the Redcoats were ousted, Shando was left in prison. Jay-may had tried to explain that Shando was dangerous, that he had tried to shoot his uncle, but Nashkowatak had shouted that the only reason Shando was still in prison was because he was a halfbreed, like Nashkowatak himself. Agreeing with Nashkowatak, Wal> nokwe had recruited her friends to help her pressure Jay-may and the jailers into releasing Shando.
We found Nashkowatak together with Shando in a drinking lodge. Nashkowatak almost leaped out of his skin when he saw my blue clothes. He slapped me on the back, laughed cynically, and said he welcomed his pure and gentle brother to the society of kin murderers. He didn’t ask what I had done. He asked if I too had been betrayed by my kin, if I too had longed to avenge the betrayal, if I too had gotten my fill of revenge.
He set out on a tirade. He had missed the first battle because his little brother had been caught tending a bridal fire on the battlefield. But he hadn’t missed any of the subsequent battles. He had joined the Bluejackets in the Beautiful Valley, and he had been in the front line of every attack. His resentment of a childhood betrayal had grown with every attack. He had shot, stabbed and scalped those who had betrayed him, telling himself they were vicious, numerous and powerful. He had remained hot with rage until after the last battle, until he returned to the Strait and found Shando still imprisoned.
Suddenly he knew why he had always been in the front line. Suddenly he remembered that he hadn’t once confronted an armed warrior or a Redcoat, that all the attacks had been aimed at villages with no warriors or even hunters in them.
Sandusky had been attacked after the warriors had been lured out with promises. On the outskirts of Kekionga, Nashkowatak had taken part in the slaughter of several of our own Lakebottom kin who had found refuge there. And the same men were always with him in the front line; they were all men who were called halfbreeds by the Bluejackets behind them; they were all kin of the people they slaughtered. The war had been aimed against our kin and against ourselves.
Nashkowatak saw that I was nauseated and told me to save my vomit until after I’d heard all there was to hear. He reminded me of Slaver Kin-sic’s description of the savages who ate human hearts, and then asked Shando to tell me why he and Kin-sic had been imprisoned, and why Shando had been left in prison.
Shando told of two Redcoats who arrived in Bison Prairie to arrest him for having spilled the whiskey of a trader called Petty-song. One of the Redcoats was the brother of Shando’s father, the Redcoat who had abandoned Mikenokwe after the battle at the fallen trees. Shando, encouraged by Burr-net, shot at his uncle and drove the Redcoats out of Bison Prairie.
Soon after this incident, Kin-sic turned up in Bison Prairie and announced that Redcoats were invading the Lakebottom. Most of Bison Prairie’s Firekeepers accompanied Kin-sic to the Lakebottom and quickly learned that the Redcoat invasion was a lie. The Lakebottom’s fort and Kin-sic’s store were surrounded by angry Firekeepers and Redearth kin; only one Redcoat was among them. Kin-sic and his Bluejacket allies were preparing to attack the Lakebottom Firekeepers and their allies, and were waiting for reinforcements from Kekionga. Only Shando and Burr-net persisted in believing Kin-sic, and they went on believing him until the Kekionga Bluejackets led by Will-well were in sight.
Burr-net woke up to what was happening only when Kin-sic distributed the ammunition destined for fur hunters to the Bluejackets in the fort. Burr-net ran out of the fort toward the Kekiongans, to warn Will-well of Kin-sic’s plot. Kin-sic and the fort’s headman ordered their armed men to shoot at the Redearth kin, who immediately responded in kind. The approaching Kekiongans thought the bullets were aimed at them, and they shot and killed Burr-net as they scattered for cover. A Redearth warrior shouted to the Bluejackets, calling for a truce and a council. Kin-sic and the headman ordered their men to leave the fort shooting, hoping that Will-well’s Kekiongans would back them up. But the Kekiongans abandoned Will-well and he as well as the fort’s Bluejackets were killed during their blind charge.
Shando had stayed inside the fort with Kin-sic and the headman. When the battle was over, the three were surrounded by hostile warriors. That was when Kin-sic began to speak of cannibals; he was sure the warriors intended to eat his heart. But Kin-sic wasn’t even harmed. Shabeni, the Redearth warrior and the Redcoat called Cod-well accompanied the fort’s headman and his family to Bison Prairie, and they escorted Kin-sic and Shando to imprisonment on the Strait.
Kin-sic was released during an exchange of prisoners, and then Kin-sic saw to it that Shando be kept in jail because Shando knew too much about Burr-net’s death. During the Redcoat occupation, Kin-sic made much of Shando’s attempt to shoot his redfrocked uncle, and after the occupation he pretended that the halfbreed Shando had been one of the cannibals.
I didn’t vomit when Shando finished his tale. I told Wabnokwe that I would not return to Jay-may’s house with her. I knew that Nashkowatak and Shando intended to go to Bison Prairie. I decided to go with them.
Shando went by way of Sandusky where his mother Mikenokwe still lived. Nashkowatak and I went by way of Kekionga. Nashkowatak hoped our Kekionga kin would torture and kill him, since they all knew he had been among the attackers who had murdered their kin. Muns avoided us; his aunt Chindiskwe had been one of the victims. Aptegizhek’s sister had been another. She had fled to Kekionga after her younger sister Wagoshkwe had been killed by Kin-sic’s Bluejackets on the Lakebottom. Yet Aptegizhek came to me, welcomed me, urged me to hold on to the Firekeepers’ bundle. Nawak had stopped in Kekionga on his way back to Sandusky and had told Aptegizhek that I had died in the last battle; Nawak had blamed himself for dragging me to the Morningland battlefield.
Nashkowatak and I set out toward Bison Prairie as soon as Shando joined us. Shando had not been well received in Sandusky, even by his mother. My beautiful aunt Suzan and her daughter Olali had fled to Sandusky after the massacre of their kin in their Kekionga refuge, and Suzan had told her hosts of Shando’s collaboration with the Slavers on the Lakebottom.
I filled with apprehension as we approached Bison Prairie; the familiar landmarks saddened me. Katabwe, Mimikwe and my bundle had made me think of Bison Prairie as the Firekeepers’ center. But I wanted to be heading toward another center, toward a blue lake surrounded by grass and sparse trees. I was not eager to see my Bison Prairie kin, and I was sure they were no more eager to see me or Nashkowatak or Shando.
At first glance, I was wrong about the coolness of our kin toward us. Topinbi and his son Nesoki, Cakima and Chebansi welcomed us as if we were hunters returning with boats full of furs. They warmed sweat lodges, feasted us and lit three fires. But the joy, as in all ofTopinbi’s and Cakima’s pagentry, was all on the surface. Topinbi and Cakima used the old ceremonies the way they used beads, to decorate and disguise, and to Topinbi the ceremonies were nothing more than occasions for opening whiskey barrels.
Topinbi himself revealed the wounds below the surface as soon as he started drinking. His daughter Mimikwe was dead. She from whom I had fled, to whom Nashkowatak had wanted to prove himself, had been murdered by a band of Bluejackets. Our brother Wedasi was crippled; he lodged with peaceful Meteya and spoke of nothing but revenge. Cakima and Chebansi wanted only peace, so as to resume the fur trade, first of all with the Lakebottom’s hunters. But a group of Lakebottom Fire- keepers, among them Topash, had moved to Bison Prairie to get away from the Lakebottom’s warriors and fur hunters, and Topash’s camp was as hostile to Cakima’s aims as to Wedasi’s. Topinbi as much as admitted that his three fires did not unite four peoples, they did not even unite the Firekeepers themselves, who were split into three mutually hostile camps.
Cakima expected Nashkowatak and me to join Chebansi and Nesoki in the store, to replace Burr-net. She told us she wanted to lure the Lakebottom furs away from Kin-sic, who had returned to the Lakebottom and swallowed Sandypoint’s fur post. She had thought Topash would help her, but Topash broke his links with the hunters when he’d moved to Bison Prairie. Some of the Lakebottom furs were carried to Bison Prairie by Naganwatek, whose mother Wagoshkwe and father Lalim had both been murdered by Kin-sic. But Cakima wanted more; she wanted Nashkowatak and me to seek brides on the Lakebottom.
Neither Nashkowatak nor I intended to replace our dead father; we disappointed Cakima and Chebansi. Nashkowatak walked out on Cakima before she was done pleading; I walked out with him. Nashkowatak headed toward the lodges of the Lakebottom refugees, and went directly to Topash’s. I didn’t share all of Nashkowatak’s guilt but I was as anxious as he to expose the wounds so they wouldn’t fester.
Topash left his lodge as soon as we entered. He recognized Nashkowatak as Shecogosikwe’s murderer, as one of the Bluejackets who had attacked the Lakebottom’s Firekeepers in their Kekionga refuge. Topash’s daughter Menashi also recognized her mother’s murderer, but she didn’t leave. She confronted us with eyes as fierce as Udatonte’s. Menashi was no longer the mischievous little girl who had caught me staring at her mother’s greenstone pendant in Kittihawa’s lodge. The mischief was still in Menashi’s eyes, but the face and body were those of a beautiful woman. I couldn’t keep my eyes from staring at the greenstone pendant, ancient Shutaha’s pendant, suspended above Menashi’s breasts. She didn’t seem aware of my staring. All her attention was on her mother’s murderer. She watched his every move, the way a fox watches a duck just before pouncing. She was stalking prey. Nashkowatak had come for a beating, and she yearned to beat him. She wanted not only revenge but also compensation and Nashkowatak offered her both. She would not allow Nashkowatak to leave her lodge. Sensing that I was between a huntress and her prey, I rushed out of Menashi’s lodge.
Still wearing the blue jacket, I made my way to Meteya’s knowing that a band of Bluejackets had murdered Bindi- zeosekwe and crippled Wedasi. I found Meteya’s brother Gizes counciling with Wedasi. Gizes was on his way toward Mishi- gami’s other shore where he hoped to rejoin Shabeni and the Redearth warriors. Gizes and his daughter Damushkekwe had stayed in the Morningland, near the Redcoats, until the Redcoats began to starve them. Damushkekwe, whose mother had been murdered on the Wabash, had accompanied Gizes to all the battlefields, but wanted to travel no further.
Meteya was away hunting or stalking. His older daughter, pockmarked Koyoshkwe, greeted me with silence. The younger, Wamoshkeshekwe, told me she admired Cakima and let me know she was willing and ready to be my bride. Wedasi was hostile. Hobbling on one leg, supporting his weight with a stick, he quickly let me know that he considered me a coward, Shando and Nashkowatak traitors, and that the war against traitors wasn’t over.
Wedasi’s urge to tell the reasons for his rage was greater than the rage itself, and I soon knew more than I wanted to know.
I had last seen Wedasi when he had painted himself and left Bison Prairie with Wapmimi and the other Wabash warriors. He accompanied the warriors to Kithepekanu, where he lodged with Shawanokwe, Wapmimi, their son Ojejok, their daughter Omemekwe, and grandfather Sigenak, the old warrior, Nanikibi’s brother. Wedasi devoted his days to war dances and preparations with Ojejok’s grandfather and uncles; he devoted his nights to Ojejok’s sister Omemekwe, who soon grew large with Wedasi’s child. Everyone in Kithepekanu expected war, but no one was ready when scouts brought word of a large army of Bluejackets led by headman Will-hen-garrison moving up the Wabash.
Wedasi joined the warriors who rushed to confront the approaching Bluejackets; the warriors lunged against the uniformed armed men with no heed to their own lives, but the Bluejackets kept on moving. The enemy had called no council, announced no conditions, stated no terms for negotiation; they simply invaded the lands of the Prairiekin and moved to exterminate everyone in and near Kithepekanu; they burned every lodge, set fire to all the weapons and all the food jThis was the only battle in which Wedasi fought. When it ended, pregnant Omemekwe and Wedasi’s unborn child were dead; Omemekwe’s mother Shawanokwe and grandfather Sigenak were dead.
The survivors rebuilt Kithepekanu on the ashes, as a war camp. Wedasi, Wapmimi and Ojejok lodged briefly with Gizes and his young daughter Damushkekwe. When Wapmimi and Gizes set out toward the Strait, Wedasi joined Shabeni and the other warriors who headed toward the Lakebottom. They had been told of the Lakebottom Scalpers’ ravages by Sandypoint’s son Kegon, who did not survive to return to his kin. Wedasi and his companions reached the Lakebottom after the battle was over, the ground already stained.
Those responsible for the bloodshed—the fort’s headman, the Slaver Kin-sic and Shando—were still alive, and Wedasi joined his voice to the voices of the angry Redearth kin who wanted the enemies killed. Shabeni and the Redearth warrior Macataimeshekiakak restrained Wedasi, said enough blood had been shed, and insisted on transporting the enemies to the Strait. The headman was ill from fright; he was left in Bison Prairie and Mimikwe nursed him back to health. Wedasi was also left in Bison Prairie; Shabeni insisted that Wedasi stay behind to protect Mimikwe, her son Komenoteya and the remaining villagers.
When Wedasi’s chance came, he failed. A band of Bluejackets surrounded Mimikwe and Bindizeosekwe in Bison Prairie’s cornfield, maltreated the two women and then murdered them. Wedasi ran for his rifle; he and Komenoteya pursued the killers until Wedasi’s leg was shot off. Wedasi was carried to Meteya’s lodge; he was nursed by Koyoshkwe, who shared her mat with my crippled brother, fed him, and helped him learn to walk with a stick. Wedasi’s worst humiliation came when Shabeni returned to Bison Prairie after burying the kin who died in the last battle. For several days Shabeni wept for Mimikwe. Then, without once greeting or looking in on Wedasi, Shabeni and his son Komenoteya left Bison Prairie and headed west.
I felt as out of place in Meteya’s lodge as I had in Cakima’s and Menashi’s. Gizes, his daughter Damushkekwe and Wedasi filled the lodge with talk of battles, deaths and revenge. Koyoshkwe tended the cooking fires, gathered berries and herbs, prepared sweat baths, and never said a word. Wamoshkeshekwe insistently offered herself to me, seeing me as the trader’s son, expecting me to be her gate to the trader’s lodge, hoping I would turn her into the trader’s wife. I had been afraid of Mimikwe’s expectations; I was repelled by Wamosh- keshekwe’s.
Gizes stayed in Bison Prairie until Meteya returned from the hunt. Gizes counciled with Meteya to learn his brother’s attitudes and to give news of their brothers Wapmimi and Wakaya; and he prepared to leave. I left with Gizes. I wanted to see Shabeni, and I wanted to get away from Wamoshkeshekwe’s expectations.
We circumvented the Lakebottom village and followed a path once used by Redearth kin on their treks between the Long River and the Strait. I had never before visited the other short', the land of lakes and forests that had sheltered and fed my great-grandmother’s people. Shabeni’s village was at the edge of a lake which, Gizes told me, lay halfway between Mishigami and the Long Lake.
Shabeni and the Redearth warriors greeted Gizes as a brother and me as a curiosity. They had seen me among the corpses on the Morningland battlefield and were surprised I was alive. Mimikwe’s son didn’t greet me; Komenoteya saw only the blue jacket, the uniform of his mother’s murderers.
Shabeni was more anxious to council with Gizes about the whereabouts of their companions than with me about my grandmother Katabwe. He granted me a brief council, but only to tell me that when he’d returned to Bison Prairie after burying his companions and learned that Mimikwe was dead, he h;xl repudiated me and my bundle and my grandmother and all the dream spirits. With tears in my eyes I asked him to explain why Shabeni answered. He told me that something more power ful than our bundles, spirits and old songs had risen out of the ashes on the Wabash. After Kithepekanu was burned, after Sigenak and Shawanokwe and Kegon and the other dead wen- buried, the survivors regrouped and rebuilt a new village, a new center that was not a gathering of Firekeepers, Prairiekin, Redearth kin and other people, but a center of a single people with a single goal and a single army. The army of this people born on the ashes of Kithepekanu, captured the enemy’s ships, cut supply lines, captured the impregnable fortresses on Mish i limakina and on the Strait, emptied all the lesser forts, and cleared the Invaders out of all forests, lakes and villages between Cahokia and the Peninsula’s Northern Strait. But at that point, instead of strengthening their unity, the single people decomposed. The single army reverted to an alliance of warrior bands, and the bands decomposed into hotheads like Wedasi and bundle-carriers like me, into hunters and dreamers who quickly dispersed, one to settle a petty revenge, another to seek spirits, a third to dance. As a single people they had re covered the world from the Invaders, as hotheads and bundle-carriers they couldn’t even protect Mimikwe from a band of bluejacketed plunderers.
I sought no further councils with Shabeni. I accompanied a band of eastward-bound hunters out of his village. Shabeni’s answer angered me. I had never before had a standpoint from which I could think of someone as a traitor. Shabeni had built my dream lodges; he had been my cousin, guide and companion But I knew that his single people with a single army had not been born on the ashes of Kithepekanu, but had been carried across the Ocean on the ships that brought firewater, rifles and plagues.
The hunters with whom I returned to Mishigami’s shore, men named Lashas, Laframboaz, Leme and Lepeti, were my distant cousins, sons-in-law of Nangisl and Winamek. Our kinship was a thin bond. I tried to speak with them of common ancestors and met only indifference and ridicule; the only ancestor they remembered was Wabskeni, the manhunter, and he was their Wiske, the founder of their village.
Bison Prairie was half empty when I arrived with Nagan- watek and the furs of the Lakebottom hunters. Topinbi and Cakima had led a caravan to a council in Kekionga; Nashkowatak, Menashi and Wamoshkeshekwe were among those who had left with the caravan. I learned that Menashi had given birth to a child just before the caravan’s departure, a boy with trader Burr-net’s yellow hair and blue eyes; Cakima had named her first grandson Wimego, the name that was given to Burr-net when he was adopted by Bison Prairie’s Firekeepers.
Wedasi was still at Meteya’s but he no longer shared his mat with Koyoshkwe, who had nursed him and taught him to walk with a stick. Wedasi spent his days and nights with Damushkekwe, the warlike daughter of Gizes; the two filled the air with talk of past and future battles, and of the day when Kithepekanu had risen on top of ashes. They had briefly shared a lodge in the re-risen village; Wedasi had been a hotheaded warrior, she an admiring little girl. My heart went out to abandoned Koyoshkwe, who treated Damushkekwe as a sister, Wedasi as a brother, and let no trace of sadness or anger show on her face or in her movements.
Bison Prairie came alive with feasts, celebrations, misused ceremonies and drinking orgies when Topinbi, Cakima and their train returned with canoe-loads of gifts. Wamoshkeshekwe returned as Shando’s bride. Menashi and Nashkowatak seemed estranged. Nashkowatak sought me out. He carried a whiskey pouch to a place away from the other celebrants, and harangued me as he drank. He asked about the contents of the Firekeepers’ bundle and he told me to do whatever I was going to do with my bundle, and to do it quickly. He bitterly told me that he had never known who he was, but he wanted his newly-named son to grow among people who knew who they were.
The Kekionga gathering had shown him that our kin no longer knew who they were. He called our mother and our uncle Topinbi prostitutes, and said they had gone to Kekionga to give away their own people and their lands for a few cartloads of beads and whiskey. They had sold themselves to Nash- kowatak’s one-time militia chief Loos-gas, who was now the headman of all of Kichigami’s Invaders. Our uncles Onimush, Bijiki and Gabinya had served Loos-gas as interpreters; Nashkowatak called them pimps.
Without consulting Aptegizhek or Muns or Mekinges or the other Eastbranch Rootkin who lodged in Kekionga, the pimps and the prostitutes gave Loos-gas all the land of Kekionga and of the Wabash valley—all but tiny parcels. The parcels were reserved for the children of traders, whom Loos-gas called children of the three fires by birth or marriage. Cakima received titles to such parcels, one for each of her sons and daughter Aptegizhek tried to stop his kin; he carried a fistful of earth to Loos-gas and begged to be given a title for it. Aptegizhek was disregarded. All eyes, including Menashi’s were on Cakima, the person who had acquired the biggest load of gifts, enough to revive Bison Prairie’s trade and to lure furs away from the Lakebottom’s trader Kin-sic. Menashi had carried little Wimego to Cakima’s councils with Loos-gas to acquaint herself and her son with the behavior of people who no longer knew who they were.
Nashkowatak drank until he was numb. Koyoshkwe stepped out of the shadows; she too had heard his harangue. Koyoshkwe helped me carry him to Menashi’s lodge. Taking my hand, she led me to Meteya’s, to her mat. She spoke only with her eyes. She didn’t know what I could do, and she had no expectations; she wanted me to know that she would help me.
Koyoshkwe let me know she had shared her mat with several men, all of them had abandoned her, and she expected no more; she said she knew she could bear no children, and she knew she was pockmarked. My love grew with my admiration for her; there was nothing she could not do, and she never tired My love did not help me forget Udatonte, but it did make that spring, the third since my return to Bison Prairie, my happiest spring there.
I was especially happy when, shortly after Damushkekwe gave birth, Wedasi asked me to arrange his newborn child’s naming ceremony. My brother wanted the old ceremony, our grandmother’s. I was overjoyed to be asked, but I didn’t know how to begin. If Koyoshkwe hadn’t gathered masks and wood and food, if she hadn’t sent her father and cousins running with invitations, I would have been lost. I didn’t ask Koyoshkwe where she had learned all the things I didn’t know; I assumed that her mother Bindizeosekwe and my cousin Mimikwe had carried on the old ceremonies after Katabwe’s death, and that Koyoshkwe had silently watched and listened. She left me nothing to do but rehearse the songs and dances and prepare the other participants. I named Damushkekwe’s round and healthy son Mikfnak, turtle, in memory of the generous animal who supported our Yahatase’s and my Udatonte’s world.
Word of the ancient naming ceremony was carried to other quarters, and soon Koyoshkwe’s aunt Meshewokwe invited me to the Lakebottom to name her newborn son. Most of my Bison Prairie kin set out for the Lakebottom when Koyoshkwe and I did, not to take part in the naming ceremony, but in another. Cakima had at last succeeded in pushing one of her sons into a marriage with one of the daughters of the Lakebottom hunters. Chebansi had agreed to marry Nangisi’s granddaughter Notanokwe. The naming preceded the marriage. The baby, my cousin Naganwatek’s son, was the grandson of Wagoshkwe, great-grandson of the bowlmaker Lokaskwe. I named the boy Shawanetek for the Southbranch kin with whom Lokaskwe shared joys and sorrows.
Chebansi’s marriage was a cold affair which revolved around three hearths that had no meaning, and principally around Topinbi’s mounds of gifts and barrels of whiskey. Cakima had what she wanted: a direct link to the Lakebottom’s Lashas, Laframboaz, Leme, Lepeti, and she expected Kin-sic’s fur post to decompose soon after Naganwatek began carrying all of the Lakebottom furs to Bison Prairie. Chebansi’s bride accompanied us to Bison Prairie and joined Cakima in the store, but not happily. Notanokwe, a crosswearer, seemed to dislike everyone in Bison Prairie, especially Chebansi.
Topinbi and Shando set out toward the Strait with the largest fur caravan that had left Bison Prairie since before the Bluejackets’ war. They returned with Shando’s mother Mike- nokwe and with frightening news. Crosswearing Mikenokwe told us she had been hounded out of Sandusky by evangelists who had bewitched the villagers, including my aunt Suzan, with their messages and visions. She had joined her sister Pamoko in Karontaen, but only long enough to see Karon- taen’s kin driven from the Strait by landgrabbers who invoked titles given to them by Topinbi and Cakima in Kekionga.
Wamoshkeshekwe gave birth to a son. I knew that she as well as Shando wanted to ask me to arrange the naming ceremony. But Mikenokwe would not allow her newborn grandson to be exposed to a pagan ceremony. Mikenokwe recruited Chebansi’s bride Notanokwe as well as my cousin Nesoki to help her arrange an affair with crosses and incense and murmured prayers, the first crosswearers’ ceremony in Bison Prairie since my great-grandmother’s days. The child was named Pogon.
Topinbi brought the frightening news that the Invaders’ headman Loos-gas intended to hold a gift-giving council on the Lakebottom. Topinbi and Cakima thought only of the gifts, but most others knew what such a council would bring. That fall and winter, Wedasi and Damushkekwe resumed their talk of war and revenge against traitors, and Wedasi sent runners to nearby villages. Youth arrived from many quarters and painted themselves; the preparing warriors pledged themselves to kill anyone who ceded the Peninsula’s land to the Invaders. Koyoshkwe was alarmed, as was her father Meteya, who concerned himself with the affairs of the village only when fratricidal war threatened to break out. Too many of our kin had died in fratricidal wars. Koyoshkwe and Meteya sent out messages urging Firekeepers to converge on the Lakebottom so as to dissuade their kin from signing the Invaders’ leaves and to disarm the hotheads in their midst. Koyoshkwe begged me to carry such a message to our Kekionga kin.
I accompanied Topinbi’s and Shando’s spring caravan out of Bison Prairie. In view of the message I was carrying, I traveled in strange company. Topinbi, of course, knew why I was going to Kekionga, and my mission didn’t bother him in the least; he told me he sympathized with the resisters, he did not want the Peninsula’s lands to go to the Invaders. The reason he signed the treaties, he told me, was because he was convinced that the landgrabbers would come on the day they were ready to come whether or not Topinbi signed their treaties, and landgrabbers who arrived with signed treaties were less violent than those who arrived with nothing but their rifles.
Topinbi and Shando went on to the Strait. I stayed in Kekionga. My insides ached when I saw the village. The only reminders of the village I had known were the traders’ lodges. Invaders were everywhere. The only kinsman I found was Aptegizhek. He told me the last Eastbranch kin had been pushed out. Already before the treaty council, Invaders had been downing trees, killing animals, fencing fields, so that every winter the villagers had starved.
Too weak to oust the Invaders from the hunting grounds and fields, the villagers had at last abandoned their home and fled westward toward Eastbranch kin who had fled earlier. My friend Muns and his mother Mekinges were among the starvelings who set out in search of fields and forests untrampled by Invaders. It was a sad sight. Aptegizhek mourned, and then gave away the scrolls which told of the earlier wanderings of the Eastbranch Rootkin. He gave the scrolls to one who promised to bury them in the east, by the Oceanshore, at the place where the earlier wanderings of the Eastbranch kin had ended.
Aptegizhek had not accompanied either his kin or his scrolls; he had stayed in Kekionga with the few Eastbranch kin who preferred starvation over migration. He told me the Invaders named the place Fort Vain, after the headman who had killed my grandfather at the fallen trees, but the place remained Kekionga so long as any Rootkin lived in it. He told me his cousin Onimush had married a daughter of an Invader as soon as Mekinges and Muns were gone. His cousin Bijiki had married an Invader’s daughter already earlier. Bijiki’s son Kezhek had fled to Piqua in search of Wapmimi and the few Southbranch kin who still lived in the Beautiful Valley.
Aptegizhek was cheered by my mission. He said he hoped the Firekeepers were stronger than the Eastbranch kin. He agreed to go to the Lakebottom with me. We left Kekionga and followed the caravan that carried headman Loos-gas and his signers, interpreters, gifts and whiskey toward the Lakebottom. My uncle Topinbi was the caravan’s guide. Aptegizhek’s cousins Onimush and Bijiki traveled with my uncles Gabinya and Atsimet near the head of the caravan.
The Lakebottom teemed with more people than I had ever seen gathered in one place. The Invaders’ headman and his agents were welcomed by trader Kin-sic, who installed them in lodges and stores that had once been Sandypoint’s. The Invaders and their wares were like a tiny island in a turbulent sea; the Lakebottom plain was crowded with hearths and tents extending as far as an eye could see. Firekeepers from every corner of the Great Lakes had responded to the call; I was told that kin from seventy-four villages were gathered on the Lakebottom.
I accompanied Aptegizhek from one hearth to the next. His sadness left him when he saw Menashi’s son Wimego, the grandson of Shecogosikwe, and when he saw Naganwatek’s son Shawanetek, the grandson of Wagoshkwe. The grandchildren would not grow up in a decomposing world. At every hearth we felt the determination of kin who knew that the land could not be ceded, that earth could not be bargained away. There was no need for Wedasi’s threats or war dances. The mere presence of so many kin kept Topinbi and other gift-seekers from offering their signatures to the landgrabbers.
A flood or earthquake could not have caused greater shock than the news that suddenly spread from hearth to hearth. Unable to coax any Firekeepers into signing his treaty, head man Loos-gas had filled his leaf with the names of his own agents and interpreters. Gabinya and Atsimet, Bijiki and Onimush, Wit-nags and Kin-sic and others with the faintest of links to the Peninsula’s Rootkin had signed the leaf as children of Firekeepers by birth or marriage. The signers had been rewarded with gifts and with titles to sections of the Peninsula. When Aptegizhek learned of this, he covered himself with earth, removed the bandanna from his head, and went to the traders’ camp, to his cousins Onimush, Bijiki and the others, displaying his scalped head, his body reduced to dirt.
The Firekeepers began to disperse, knowing that the gift- seekers among them were not the snakes in the grass, that their show of determination to hold on to the land had not stopped or even delayed the Invaders, that the treaty councils were neither treaties nor councils. And as soon as the gathered Firekeepers dispersed, Cakima and Topinbi rushed to the headman’s camp for their share of the gifts and sections.
Nashkowatak later told me that Menashi accompanied Cakima and pretended to display yellowhaired Wimego to his kinsmen; her real intention was to display herself. Invited to return alone for private councils with Bijiki, Gabinya, Wit-nags and headman Loos-gas himself, Menashi left Wimego with Wamoshkeshekwe and returned to the Invaders. She emerged from her councils with more gifts and sections than all the others put together; Menashi became the first among the prostitutes.
Shando later told me that his mother Mikenokwe had also counciled with headman Loos-gas, not to acquire gifts and land sections, but to request that a Blackrobe be sent to Bison Prairie. Mikenokwe and other crosswearers wanted to put an end to the ancient renewal ceremonies that were still remembered by the Firekeepers.
I looked for Aptegizhek during the general dispersal. I found him sitting by the lake’s shore, away from the commotion, his body covered with dirt, his head unbound. He was as thin as a stick. He looked at me but didn’t see me. His eyes were blood red and spoke of intense pain, as if he had been scalped, not on the Tuscarawas forty summers earlier, but on the Lakebottom the previous day. I sat down by him and looked across the lake toward the Peninsula. His nephew Naganwatek later guided him back to Kekionga.
In Bison Prairie all eyes, including mine, turned toward Menashi. She seemed to be driven by the spirit of the greenstone pendant that had once been Shutaha’s, the pendant that always dangled prominently between Menashi’s breasts like an angry, defiant and misplaced eye. Shutaha had used her powers to transform sick strangers into healthy Turtlefolk. Menashi seemed bent on transforming everyone around her into moths that revolved around her fire.
Returning from the Lakebottom with several canoe-loads of blankets, clothes and whiskey, Menashi eclipsed Cakima and Topinbi as Bison Prairie’s gift-bringer. She did not return to Topash’s lodge with Nashkowatak and Wimego, but installed herself alongside Cakima in the store, and soon hunters, rum- carriers, even Bluejackets veered away from their paths and entered Bison Prairie seeking the woman with the green pendant. The visitors became demented the moment they set their eyes on the greenstone. They arrived with blankets, coins, powder, rifles, food; they left Cakima’s lodge with nothing but their shirts. Chebansi’s censurious Notanokwe tried to oust Menashi from Cakima’s lodge and recruited Mikenokwe to help her, but Chebansi as well as Cakima held on to Menashi. The store prospered; its gifts were luring all of the Lakebottom’s furs away from Kin-sic. Chebansi and Topinbi were turned into arrangers and sustainers of Menashi’s encounters.
Koyoshkwe and I kept our distance from the trading lodge, but our paths kept crossing Menashi’s. Nashkowatak, abandoned by Menashi, brought little Wimego to Meteya’s to play with Wedasi’s son Mikinak. Nashkowatak and I took the boys to the fields or herb-gathering with Koyoshkwe, on walks into the woods with Meteya. Koyoshkwe and I enacted ancient planting ceremonies before the boys, singing the old songs and losing ourselves in fragments of old dances. But Menashi let us know, with glances and sometimes with words, that Wimego was her son, and that he was with us only because she wasn’t yet ready to take him from us.
Menashi’s effect on Damushkekwe created daily war in Meteya’s lodge. Disappointed that her and Wedasi’s war councils had not led to bloodshed on the Lakebottom, Damushkekwe cast envious eyes toward Menashi, considering Menashi’s fleecing of guests a greater feat than any warrior’s. Damushkekwe grew ever more contemptuous of warrior Wedasi, ridiculing his disability, calling him a do-nothing who warred only with his mouth, even threatening to move to Cakima’s and to take Mikinak with her.
Great commotion was caused by the coming of the Black robe requested by Mikenokwe. A man called Ma-caynin arrived with his family, several assistants, and with cartloads of furniture; it was obvious that he intended to stay. Mikenokwe and Chebansi’s frustrated Notanokwe prepared an elaborate wel come. Ma-caynin let it be known that he did not tolerate prostitution any more than he tolerated whiskey. Koyoshkwe and 1 thought the crosswearers had been given a powerful ally and that Menashi would become entangled in a tug of war with the crosswearers and would leave the rest of us in peace. But it was Mikenokwe who lashed out against the newcomer. She com plained that headman Loos-gas had sent the wrong type of crosswearer, that Ma-caynin was an evangelist like those who had hounded Mikenokwe out of Sandusky, that he wasn’t a proper Blackrobe. And as soon as Mikenokwe turned against the newcomer, Menashi drew him into her net; she placed herself between Ma-caynin and the things he needed from Cakima’s store, and she promised to fill Ma-caynin’s mission- lodge with converts and his schoolhouse with children of Firekeepers.
Koyoshkwe was a wonder. She led the children to fields and clearings, showing them herbs, singing them ancient songs. Wedasi’s son, eager to learn his father’s warrior skills, did not open himself to Koyoshkwe’s gifts but wide-eyed Wimego drew in all she gave him and asked for more. And Koyoshkwe’s gifts amazed me. She took up a song or story only after I started it, but once she began, she went to realms where I had never been.
She sang, with a conviction I lacked, of our kinship with swimmers, fliers and crawlers, of the migrations of our ancestors over the land of ice to the woodlands of Kichigami, of the wars among Kichigami’s four peoples and their peace at the council of three fires. She had never seen the contents of my bundle but was familiar with the meaning of everything in it except the hairlock. Koyoshkwe was the true heiress of Shutaha’s pendant, not Menashi. Koyoshkwe created the healthy ground out of which shoots could grow unhampered. She expressed her gratitude to me, but it was she, not I, who rekindled a fire that had been faltering. Nashkowatak, Topash and even Topinbi visited our lodge seeking the warmth of the rekindled fire.
But my cousin Menashi had set out to extinguish every fire but one. She turned up at Meteya’s lodge. Everyone thought she’d come to fetch Wimego away from me and Koyoshkwe. I placed myself between the boy and his mother, ready to protect Wimego from Ma-caynin’s mission and school. Menashi walked past everyone, straight toward me, her dark eyes burning into mine. Below the fierce eyes dangled the greenstone pendant. My eyes were drawn to it, my heart beat like a duck’s wings, my prepared words bunched up in my throat. A hand came toward me, and I saw the hand as Udatonte’s reaching for mine through fog.
I placed my hand into hers, and when she pulled, I followed, ready to be drawn into Udatonte’s canoe. She pulled me past Koyoshkwe, Meteya, Topash and Nashkowatak, past the councilground and the furthest lodges, along the riverbank, into the forest. Dressed in a glistening dress made of Invaders’ cloth, she stretched out on a grass bed, her eyes inviting me to lie beside her. I knew I was not with Udatonte. I was not filled with love. I was filled with desire. I was entranced. I had seen a beautiful woman, my aunt Suzan, only once and only for an instant. Menashi’s dark eyes, her parted lips, her black hair, her firm body pushed all other thoughts out of my head. I let her guide my hand to her breast, her stomach, her thighs, my head toward the pendant, my mouth to her bosom. I burned with desire and still she played, entangling her arms and legs in mine and disentangling as we rolled over each other on the grass until, both of us panting, naked and covered with sweat, we lunged at each other and joined.
I’d had a sensation of fullness with Udatonte. I felt completely empty, dry, when Menashi led me back through the village to Cakima’s lodge. I followed like a loyal dog. She put me in a room with a wide bed, and I stayed in the room as if the windows were barred and the door locked; I writhed with long ing for Menashi’s return. My mind had no room for thoughts of betrayed Koyoshkwe, of betrayed Nashkowatak, of abandoned Wimego, of the Firekeepers’ bundle which I had left on the grass in the forest.
Menashi’s room was no Grasslake, and I soon came to hate* its bare walls, but still I remained in it, longing for nothing but her return. I knew that she bedded with other men in other rooms, but I feared only that she wouldn’t return to me. I was Menashi’s prisoner, a fish caught in her net.
I gradually became aware that there were other fish in her net, that she had set out to enmesh all persons susceptible to her powers and to isolate those who were impervious. She lured Damushkekwe away from Wedasi, installed Damushkekwe in ;i room with a wide bed, and led Wedasi’s son to Ma-caynin’s school. She lured Wamoshkeshekwe away from Shando, and installed her in another room, and tried unsuccessfully to pul I the boy Pogon away from his crosswearing grandmother Mikenokwe. She pulled her own Wimego away from Koyoshkwe and installed him in the school.
The store filled with trade-gifts, the mission filled with schoolchildren, and Bison Prairie prospered. The whole village glowed with a light that emanated from Menashi. Cakima and Chebansi were her ablest accomplices. Cakima had always wanted Bison Prairie’s children to be transformed into traders by the Invaders’ schools and she could not but admire Menashi’s success. Chebansi, obsessed by the desire to gather all of Mishigami’s furs, didn’t care how the gifts or the furs were lured to Bison Prairie’s store.
I remained obsessed, demented by my desire for Menashi, although after two seasons in her room, shame alone would have kept me from leaving the room and facing my kin. The passage of seasons increased Menashi’s beauty, but not her power. Menashi was a greedy huntress, but she was not Wiske; her powers were great, but limited. After a summer, fall and winter, the fur post’s prosperity collapsed. Menashi told me little, but I learned much from Wimego who spent his time away from school alongside me, waiting for his mother.
Wimego told me Topinbi and Shando were back from the Strait with nothing in their canoes but the paddles. They had set out with more furs than had ever been sent out of Bison Prairie in a single caravan, had been ambushed by armed Invaders, and had been fortunate to escape with their lives and their canoes. Chebansi was desperate; he had no gifts to offer the hunters for their furs; the only gifts left in the store were those offered by Menashi, Damushkekwe and Wamoshkeshekwe: their wide beds.
From Wimego I learned of my uncle Gizes’s arrival in Bison Prairie with a band of hunters from the western Plains. Wedasi and Topinbi counciled with the westerners. Wedasi’s son Mikinak ran from Ma-caynin’s school to hear the councils. Gizes told of paths untrodden by Invaders, of buffalo herds so populous they blackened the horizons, of forests where no trees had been killed. Gizes no longer lived with Shabeni; he lived with Shabeni’s son Komenoteya and with the warrior Macatai- meshekiakak in a village of Redearth and Plains kin on the western shore of the Long River.
My brother Wedasi was so impressed by Gizes’s descriptions of the lands beyond the Long River that he urged his son Mikinak to leave the mission school and take up the bow and the rifle. Wedasi was ready to become the trainer of a new generation of warriors; he apparently expected his leg to grow back while he crossed the Long River. Wimego told me my uncle Topinbi was also impressed by Gizes’s words. The aging Topinbi probably saw himself as ancient Nangisi, the first carrier of Invaders’ gifts to kin who had not yet seen them.
Gizes came and went. More seasons passed. I accompanied Chebansi to the landingplace and helped unload canoes, but I strayed no further from Cakima’s lodge, from Menashi’s room. Menashi returned to her room ever less frequently; her son visited ever more frequently, occasionally with his cousin Mikinak.
Wimego remembered the songs Koyoshkwe and I had sung to him; he wanted to know about the dream-spirits; he even begged me to build him a fasting lodge. I remembered myself at the same age begging the same favor of Shabeni. But I found excuses not to stir. I told myself the boy was timid; he feared Menashi; he would be frightened to death by a dream-spirit. Mikinak was strong enough to fast, but Mikinak’s head was full of Wedasi’s words; he wanted to kill, not to sing or dream. I found excuses and I stayed where I was. I told myself I was no longer the Firekeepers’ bundle carrier. I was free. But I felt empty. I lived for the moments Menashi spared me, and when she left I felt yet emptier.
I almost left my prison on the day when Wimego ran into the room hysterically seeking Menashi, his eyes red with fear, his body trembling. I tried in vain to calm him until Menasln came; Wimego felt safe only when he buried his face in Menashi’s bosom. At last Wimego said between sobs that Mikinak had been carried into the mission with his arm bleed ing blood and that Wedasi had been hung by Invaders. I w;is ready to run out but Menashi held me; she already knew what had happened.
Mikinak and Wedasi had gone with Koyoshkwe to a place in the forest where she gathered herbs. Wedasi was showing Mikinak how to ambush an army of Bluejackets when three armed men surrounded him and his son. Three others sur rounded Koyoshkwe, beat her, pounced on her, emptied then juices into her, while Wedasi, pinned to a tree by two of the armed men, Mikinak by the third, helplessly watched. Think ing they had killed Koyoshkwe, the men released Wedasi and Mikinak and rushed away. Wedasi reached for his bow and shot an arrow through one of the men’s shirt sleeves. All six turned and shot their rifles, missing Wedasi, grazing Miklnak’s arm with a bullet. Mikinak ran into the village screaming for help; Ma-caynin and two of his mission assistants returned to the spot with the boy. The men had captured lame Wedasi and were ready to hang him from a tree. Ma-caynin spoke to the men of Hell and Damnation until they let Wedasi go. Mikinak and Wedasi fainted and had to be carried to the mission. Koyoshkwe was carried to her lodge. No one had died.
I heard the hardness in Menashi’s voice. I wanted to run to Koyoshkwe. But still Menashi held me. She told me the cross wearers Mikenokwe, Notanokwe and their convert Nesoki were standing guard in front of Koyoshkwe’s lodge; they didn’t let even Wamoshkeshekwe go to her sister’s side, howling that Koyoshkwe’s rape was the Lord’s punishment for the daily sins of Wamoshkeshekwe, Damushkekwe and Menashi. I stayed where I was. I could have faced the crosswearers’ howls no better than Wamoshkeshekwe did, and when the shock left me I told myself I could not have faced Koyoshkwe either.
Menashi’s hardness initially surprised me; in time it started to repel me. Menashi was frustrated and she was angry, but her anger was not directed at the six pioneers who had assaulted Koyoshkwe. She was angry because she thought the six armed men would have sought Menashi’s gifts in the trading lodge if they had not found Koyoshkwe in the field. She was angry at Wedasi for his failure to block access to Koyoshkwe. She was angry because Koyoshkwe’s availability debased the value of Menashi’s gifts. Menashi had begun to reason about her gifts the same way Chebansi and Cakima reasoned about theirs.
The next time Wimego burst in on me panting with fear, I didn’t wait for Menashi to return and calm him. I bolted out of my room and hurried toward the gathering crowd. Shando, staggering, was leading two horses to the village, one laden with beaver furs, the other carrying the dead body of Topinbi. Cakima had her brother’s body carried to her lodge by Chebansi and Nashkowatak. Cakima’s face was a mask of sorrow. She and her brother had been closer to each other than either had been to anyone else; they had mirrored and supported each other’s lifelong commitment to Wiske’s ways. I had never before seen Cakima weep.
Shando collapsed. Ignoring the howls and wails let loose by his crosswearing mother and her friends, I stayed by Shando’s side while Koyoshkwe revived him. Everyone in the village gathered on the councilground to hear his tale.
Topinbi and Shando had set out with missionary Ma-caynin toward the Firekeepers’ villages north of Bison Prairie. Topinbi went to collect furs and also to convince Ma-caynin that Wedasi was not the only young Firekeeper eager to leave the Peninsula and move west. Along the way, Topinbi showed Ma-caynin the complexes of mounds in ancient burial grounds; the sheer size of the mounds impressed Ma-caynin who admitted that he had considered only his fellow-Invaders capable of such feats. Topinbi had said that Firekeepers would repeat and surpass such feats if only they found a place where their very existence wasn’t threatened.
In the villages, Topinbi introduced the missionary to every Firekeeper who wanted to leave the besieged Peninsula. Ma- caynin was convinced; he promised to ask the headman on the Strait for the supplies needed for such a trip, and he said he was willing to set out with Topinbi and Shando in search of a suitable place. Others accompanied Ma-caynin back to his mission while Topinbi and Shando gathered their last furs.
Along their return, Topinbi and Shando crossed paths with a party of land measurers who were girdling trees—elm, ash and birch as well as sap-dripping maple. Topinbi approached the tree-girdlers and told them they were destroying the food and shelter of people who still lived in those woodlands, and begged them not to invite unnecessary anger and possible violence. The land measurers listened calmly, but when one of them turned vicious, they all did. They tied Topinbi and Shando to two girdled trees near the land measurers’ night camp. In the morning they returned the horses but not the furs. They carried the bound captives to the horses’ backs and shot into the air. The horses bolted and Topinbi was thrown to the ground. Seeing that Topinbi was dead, the men abandoned the fur load and fled.
Firekeepers from seventy villages gathered in Bison Prairie for the burial. Few among them had accepted gifts for dead beavers, but all of them had known Topinbi. Nashkowatak drank himself to senselessness. Wedasi hid inside the mission, humiliated by his failure as a warrior, too ashamed to face Mikinak and the other revenge-seeking youths. Chebansi and Cakima begged Shando to go to the Strait and demand the reparations repeatedly offered by Loos-gas for murders perpetrated by his agents.
Shando had been afraid to go to the Strait since the time his caravan was ambushed, and he was more afraid now. I offered myself. I knew the way. Cakima prepared the horse and the furs. Chebansi gave me his talking leaves and missionary Ma- caynin ran to me with leaves for headman Loos-gas. Mikenokwe told me to be sure to ask Loos-gas to send a proper Blackrobe. I looked for Menashi but she was not where I could see her. Wimego came to me, his wide eyes pleading. I promised to build him a fasting lodge as soon as I returned. Just before I left, Koyoshkwe came toward me. Saying nothing, she hung the Firekeepers’ bundle around my neck.
Reunited with the bundle of my ancestors, I set out for the Strait, following the path that carriers had taken for generations. Though the horse carried furs and I bore messages for the Invader, I was making this journey in the hope of finding the means of maintaining the Firekeepers’ ways, whether it be in Bison Prairie or west of the Long River. As I traveled east, my thoughts were sad as I observed the ever-wider swath of destruction along the route.
Memories and longings caused me to leave the wide path and revisit the shore of the Grasslake where fifteen years earlier I had spent the joy-filled days and nights with Udatonte. Spreading the lock of black hair, the feather, the fishbones, the shell and the scroll fragments in front of me, I was renewed and strengthened. The surroundings brought me peace and I remained by the tree on the shore of the lake singing of things I had heard and seen.
But not even songs about love and dreams were possible by the Grasslake. An intruding pioneer interrupted my songs, scattered my memories. His firestick permitted him to treat me as the intruder. I returned to the path leading to the Strait and found my way to the lodge of my sister Wabnokwe and our kin.
Before reaching the lodge I was greeted by a group of playing children, most of them born since I had left the Strait eleven springs earlier: Wabnokwe’s twin daughters Molly and Marti, aunt Margit’s Benjy-may and her granddaughter Marianne Brooks. Among them was a young woman Mendideti, with a long black braid, who spoke in Udatonte’s tongue. I eagerly sought her eyes, expecting to encounter the fierce gaze of my lost bride. Instead I found eyes like my cousin Mimikwe’s, eyes that seemed to be looking elsewhere. The hair, too, differed from Udatonte’s, being wavy rather than straight. I felt sudden shame for appearing here as a carrier and I wanted to explain to the black-braided girl that I had not journeyed to the Strait for the Invaders’ objects, but in order to seek a way of retaining the harmony between earth and all her creatures. The arrival of aunt Margit and Wabnokwe prevented me from even beginning to explain that I was not what she saw.
I told Wabnokwe I had come with messages from our Bison Prairie kin and asked her to assemble a council so I could carry out the task entrusted to me. I told her I would sleep and feast only after I had counciled with our kin.
The warmth that greeted my arrival was abruptly shattered by the screech of pain and the black smoke of a floating island that moved in the Strait. The ugly intrusion of this machine on the waters next to the graves of our grandmothers was so painful that I grew confused, asking myself why I had come to this place, this place which remained strange to me, asking if my grandmothers could forgive me for accepting the transformation of their Tiosa Rondion.
Wabnokwe and Jim-may led me into the house, both seeming to share my pain at the sight of the floating object. Jim-may had grown to manhood since I had last seen him. Except for his pensive eyes, he resembled his father Jay-may so closely that I thought perhaps he would discuss matters of trade. I saw I was mistaken when instead of account books, Jim-may pulled out instruments and assembled players. The echoes of the unnatural, intruding machine were replaced by the wondrous sounds brought into this world by the four instruments anti their players. The music restored my sense of having a place among my kin on the Strait.
As the room filled with those coming to council, the music ended. I prepared a pipe and when it had been passed around the circle, I told about Topinbi’s and Shando’s visit to the lands beyond the Long River and about Topinbi’s murder. I spoke of the uncertainty and divisions among our kin in Bison Prairie. Some, like Wedasi and Shando, wanted to take their families to the western lands. Others, like Cakima and Chebansi, refused to consider abandoning Bison Prairie. Our mother’s life engagement had the fur post as its center and she and our brother were resolved to continue it.
I told of the constant fear that lurked in all quarters of Bison Prairie. Invaders and their weapons were ever more numerous. The forests and fields of our ancestors were no longer safe for Rootkin and many of us saw hope for our people’s renewal only in a distant place. I asked my sister, cousins and kin if they could consider joining those planning to journey to a new place.
Their angry responses burst forth like a torrent. Blackhaired Mendideti’s response was expressed in Udatonte’s tongue and came as questions. She asked if the Firekeepers were prepared to see themselves as Invaders, prepared to occupy the prairies that bison hunters roam, prepared to make their home on the riverless plains which are so unlike the Peninsula’s woodland shelters. She asked if the uprooted kin could find a path when the Invader followed them across the Long River and brought into their new home the fears they were now fleeing. I could not answer the questions posed by the black-braided girl but they made me see myself as I was seen, and again I felt shame.
The sudden anger of aunts Margit, Jozet and Monik, of cousins Lisa, Beth and Liket and of Wabnokwe was countered by Jay-may’s, Wit-nags’ and Killer Brooks’s sudden interest. They were indifferent to uncle Topinbi’s death, but talk of Root- kin abandoning the Peninsula brightened their faces and their words. To them, the prospect of more woodlands and meadows accessible to land measurers, tree cutters and fence-builders seemed a matter important enough for a council with headman Loos-gas. Mendideti’s comment which likened these men to birds of prey only briefly interrupted their enthusiasm. After chasing Mendideti from the room, they resumed their talk. Dismayed by how my news had been received, I followed the children who left with Mendideti.
I stumbled toward clear air, to a spot overlooking the now calm river. In the dusk, the children appeared to be reenacting the scene inside; Benji-may sat like his father while Mendideti extended her arms and sang of greedy vultures circling their prey. But the children’s version changed the outcome. When Benji-may rose to attack Mendideti, the attacker was pinned down by the girls; and Mendideti’s black hair, loosened from her braid by the captive’s flailing arm, fell over the boy’s chest like drooping branches of a willow. The song and the heaving torso entranced me and I rested my heavy head on the trunk of the tree at the water’s edge. Fog enveloped me, the tree and the water.
I wonder if this is the ninth moonless night by the round rock and the tree overhanging the water of the Strait. There’s a sound in the fog which I first take for water lapping the shore, but when I look into the water I see Udatonte’s face rising up; her lips meet mine. My hand reaches for hers and I crawl into the water, becoming liquid, full, unbounded. Water with a dream in its depths, a dream that love-play of sun and moon rouse, rupturing the unity. Desire emerges on winged fragments oscillating between land and water, undecided. Turning the water into her body’s blood, earth decorates her moistened flesh with hair and welcomes the silvery-gray turtle spawning on its surface. The parent turns on the children and swallows the offspring. They give themselves—but only when they can’t avoid being eaten. Some of us fly into the air, others crawl under rocks, yet others walk to dens.
Our scales fall off on our journey beyond sand’s end. We flee the cold slush that swallows our cousins and wander into woodlands bounded by seas of sweet water. We find the tree split by a great rock that stands on the shore of Kichigami’s waters. When a raven lifts me on her wings I share the flight of my Oceanshore grandmother and we merge with Yahatase who scatters seeds and sings the longhouse songs of earth’s regeneration. We offer ourselves to earth and discover ourselves in Miogwewe, expelling Wiske. We share the songs and dreams of Rootkin as Katabwe, as the warrior-woman who turns away from killing. We rejoice at the splendor of earth’s gifts. Udatonte’s love causes our limbs to grow light; the joy is followed by grief at our loss. With amazement we see, through a tent of transparent hair, four gushing streams of liquid, each shaped like an arch. On the spot where one of the gushing arches reaches ground, a sapling emerges; where a second stream hits ground an egg cracks, a tiny bird emerges; a third jet lands on a worm and elongates it into the writhing body of a snake; the fourth stream showers the body of a furry animal that rises on its hind legs like a bear. Trembling, we hear a baby’s cry that reaches us through the fog.
Even before opening my eyes, I knew I was in the room where I had been locked up fourteen summers earlier, after I had been separated from Udatonte. Now the windows weren’t barred and the door wasn’t locked. I walked to the music room, drawn to the sound like a bee to flowers. The music stopped. Wabnokwe led me out of the house to vent her anger. I had excited and upset everyone with my announcements and intentions, and had then gone to sleep for three days in a hidingplace by the Strait’s shore. She had arranged for the council I had wanted with headman Loos-gas and had postponed it because she couldn’t find me.
I told Wabnokwe that I hadn’t slept. I had learned who I was. I hadn’t known who I was when I had expressed a desire to leave the Peninsula. I held the medicine bundle of the Peninsula’s Firekeepers and I wouldn’t move until the Peninsula itself moved. I would council with Loos-gas, but only to deliver other people’s messages. My most urgent desire was to return to Bison Prairie. The only person I wanted to see again was the girl with the long black braid because she reminded me of someone I had known. I was disappointed to learn that the girl had left the Strait while I dreamed; she had accompanied Wabnokwe’s daughters on a voyage toward the Oceanshore.
Wabnokwe begged me not to vanish again before I counciled with the headman. I did visit the spot on shore once again. I didn’t see the great rock or the double-trunked tree, but I knew they were there. All I saw was a denuded shore, square lodges, a fort upstream, a road, smoke-spewing ships in the water; I knew that these were all a bad dream.
I counciled with headman Loos-gas wearing my bundle outside my shirt. Loos-gas, a big man, grinned and bowed as he lit his tobacco tube. He told me he’d heard that Bison Prairie’s chief To-pin-a-bee, as he called my uncle, had killed himself by falling off a horse when he was drunk. He must have heard this from the land measurers responsible for Topinbi’s death. I handed him the talking leaves from Chebansi and Ma-caynin. Loos-gas frowned; he said he would himself go to Bison Prairie to compensate Topinbi’s kin.
His grin returned after he examined Ma-caynin’s leaf. He said that the Firekeepers who wanted to leave the Peninsula were sensible, and that he would urge missionary Ma-caynin to find them a suitable place in the western Plains. He asked me if I too was eager to leave. I told him that I would cross the Long River after I died, and I asked him if he and his people were sensible enough to return to the east. Loos-gas frowned. He told me I had spoken his language better the last time he had seen me. He thought I was Nashkowatak, who had once been a soldier in this headman’s army. When I prepared to leave he told me, still frowning, that Wabnokwe and I and our brothers possessed titles which no one could violate, that we could stay on the Peninsula as long as the sun kept rising.
I returned to Jay-may’s lodge for the horse and the meager gifts. I had nothing more to say to Wabnokwe or Margit or her children. I headed to Kekionga, to Aptegizhek’s lodge on the fringes of a vast encampment of Invaders. Aptegizhek was a skeleton with a bandanna on top. He couldn’t see well enough to hunt. He told me his cousin Onimush brought him food. I stayed with Aptegizhek through the winter. He rarely left his small lodge, but his mind still roamed over Kichigami and the Beautiful Valley. I told him I had been with Yahatase, Miogwewe and Katabwe. My story cheered him, as I knew it would.
The path from Kekionga westward was littered with signs of pioneers. The dead trees, cleared paths reverting to forest, fields of stunted cover and abandoned makeshift lodges marked the arrival and departure of people who made no sense to me. The signs accompanied me to the very edge of Bison Prairie.
I looked for Wimego as soon as I entered the village; I was ready to build his fasting lodge. I wasn’t prepared for the news that greeted me when I delivered the horse and gifts to Cakima and Chebansi. Cakima told me I had carried out my mission well. Headman Loos-gas had left the Strait soon after I had counciled with him and had called Bison Prairie’s Firekeepers to a gathering in Kithepekanu. Loos-gas had showered Cakima with gifts to compensate her for the death of her brother, had promised to stop in Bison Prairie on his return journey to confirm Cakima’s titles and to grant her more, and had sent all of Bison Prairie’s children to a distant school.
Dismayed by Cakima’s words, I rushed to Meteya’s lodge. Nashkowatak greeted me warmly, with none of the animosity I anticipated since the day I had followed Menashi to the forest. He told me he remembered that he had once separated me from my bride, and he asked me to forgive him for separating me from Udatonte and also from Koyoshkwe. Nashkowatak told me that after Menashi’s and Wimego’s departure, he had moved to Koyoshkwe’s mat. Koyoshkwe, grateful to anyone who asked her for anything, had not turned him away.
Nashkowatak was surprised that I didn’t know what had happened to the children. He thought I had made the arrangements to remove the children from pioneer-encircled Bison Prairie. Ma-caynin had received word of the Wabash gathering and had carried word to Cakima and Menashi. Cakima had begged Nashkowatak to accompany her to Kithepekanu because Chebansi refused to leave the store and Wedasi refused to budge from the mission. Menashi and Ma-caynin dragged the children to the Wabash; Nashkowatak wasn’t told why. The aim of headman Loos-gas was to deprive the Wabash Prairiekin of their lands. Nashkowatak’s aim was to drink as much whiskey as he could lay his hands on. Everything was over before Nashkowatak learned what had happened.
After concluding his treaty with the Prairiekin, Loos-gas told the Firekeepers that he had counciled with Burr-net’s son, meaning me, and that he was ready to fulfill the promises he had made to me. He gave traveling supplies and elaborate promises to Menashi, Damushkekwe and others who were willing to accompany him to the western shore of the Long River; he gave compensation gifts to Cakima; and he had the children sent to a school called an academy far south of the Beautiful River. Shando’s son Pogon, Wedasi’s Mikinak and Nashkowatak’s Wimego were among the children led away to the distant academy.
I told Nashkowatak that I had met with the headman, but had asked for nothing and approved nothing. Nashkowatak told me Loos-gas had used me the way he used the signatures on his treaties, as a cover for his next move. Loos-gas wanted us to consent to every wound he inflicted on us, and he recruited our fears and our greed to squeeze that consent out of us. Menashi and Damushkekwe were rewarded with a mound of gifts for every child sent away. Shando was promised a refuge away from ambushes and murders. Cakima favored the schooling of the children. Crosswearing Mikenokwe would have raised a cry to stop the kidnapping of her grandson Pogon, but Menashi and Shando had been careful not to forewarn Mikenokwe, and she hadn’t gone to the Wabash gathering. Nashkowatak couldn’t have stopped the kidnapping. Even if he’d known that Loos-gas was using me, and if he’d been sober, he could not have coped with Shando’s fear or Menashi’s greed.
Menashi was gone. Nashkowatak spoke cruelly of her. He said she had gone to found her own house of prostitutes—he named it Menashi’s sunset whorehouse—in a place where the monopoly of sexual favors would be guaranteed by the headman’s troops; Damushkekwe was her first recruit. I shared much of Nashkowatak’s resentment, and I was dismayed by Menashi’s sacrifice of her son. But I also pitied her. Beautiful Menashi wore Shutaha’s pendant and she knew how to wield Shutaha’s powers. In different circumstances she might have repeated or even surpassed Shutaha’s feats. I also pitied Damushkekwe, a girl-warrior like my grandmother Katabwe, reduced to stalking and attacking the enemy with her sexual organ.
I knew that Menashi and Damushkekwe had done no more than they had seen Cakima do. It was from Cakima that they learned to honor greed above kinship. Cakima saw nothing in their departure but a diminution in the store’s gifts. With Topinbi dead and Shando too fearful to replace him, Bison Prairie’s fur trade shrank to the few furs Naganwatek still brought from the Lakebottom and the few gifts Wamoshkeshekwe still received for her favors. But Wamoshkeshekwe without her two friends was ever less willing to receive the store’s guests and ever more receptive to the reproaches of crosswearing Notanokwe and Mikenokwe.
Cakima’s trading post was dying; she and Chebansi looked forward to Loos-gas’s council in Bison Prairie to resuscitate their ailing store.
Kin from various villages, especially from the Lakebottom, began to gather in Bison Prairie long before the council with the Invaders. Naganwatek and his family moved into and alongside Meteya’s lodge; his woman Meshewokwe was Koyoshkwe’s aunt; their son Shawanetek, whom I had named, was already old enough to want a fasting lodge. Meshewokwe’s niece Mis- kokwe arrived large with child, and she gave birth to a son almost as soon as she reached Koyoshkwe’s offered mat. I was asked to name the boy.
I resolved to confront the fear and the greed, to celebrate the child’s beginning as a new beginning of Bison Prairie. Koyoshkwe knew what I had in mind before I spoke to her. Nashkowatak was eager to help, as were Meteya and Topash. I approached Chebansi, thinking that the collapse of the fur trade might have led him to seek something else, but found him hostile; he thought the ceremony would make bad air for the coming council. Wedasi and Shando were just as hostile; both of them clung to missionary Ma-caynin, waiting only for the day when he would lead them westward. Wedasi said Bison Prairie was no longer a place where people could grow, either as dreamers or as warriors.
Koyoshkwe kept herself so much in the shadows that everyone thought I was the arranger of the ceremony. Yet it was Koyoshkwe who sent word of the celebration to everyone except the crosswearers. She saw to the gathering of food and firewood. She gathered the masks of the spirit-impersonators, marked out the spots for the three fires, and rehearsed those unfamiliar with the ceremony. I merely took Miskokwe’s child, laid him on the ground between the fires, and named him Oki or earth, land, soil. Koyoshkwe stayed in the shadows during all the renewal dances around the three hearths; she emerged only when the long-eared Trickster, the bringer of fear and arouser of greed, impersonated by Nashkowatak, broke through the circles to extinguish the fires. Koyoshkwe was foremost among the women who took up sticks and chased the Invader away from the Firekeepers’ circles.
The dancing mood stayed with us. Soon after the naming of Miskokwe’s child, Koyoshkwe threw herself into preparations for the planting ceremony; she drew out of me songs I had heard as a child but never sung. By the time headman Loos-gas and his train entered Bison Prairie we—those of us who had danced— were able to face him without fear and without greed; we knew who we were and what we wanted.
Headman Loos-gas arrived from the west with a train of Lakebottom hunters and carriers. Notanokwe’s brother Wiske Lashas and her cousin Shishibinqua Robin-sin served him as scouts and guides; Miskokwe’s brother Billy Cod-well served him as interpreter. I learned that the Lakebottom’s trader Kin- sic had died and that the landgrabbers and coinseekers who replaced Kin-sic had killed what remained of the Lakebottom’s fur trade.
Deprived of the gifts and gunpowder they couldn’t live without, the grandsons of Nangisi and Winamek had grasped at the promises offered to them by headman Loos-gas: their scouting and interpreting would be rewarded with gifts and powder and also with titles to land sections in the western Plains. They guided Loos-gas from the Wabash to the western shore of the Long River where, near a village of Redearth kin, the Lakebottom hunters helped Loos-gas gather signatures on leaves that spoke of all the lands on Mishigami’s other shore. I was told that my cousin Shabeni had also helped gather the signatures. The last task of the scouts and guides was to lead Loos-gas eastward, to Bison Prairie, to help him oust the Firekeepers from the Peninsula.
With all his guides and interpreters, headman Loos-gas did not find what he sought in Bison Prairie, maybe because his ablest assistant Topinbi was no longer with us, or because we had strengthened ourselves before his arrival. The headman’s arrival from the west coincided with the arrival, from the east, of a caravan that included many of the Strait’s traders as well as Onimush and Aptegizhek from Kekionga.
The traders came for grants of land sections to children of Firekeepers by birth or marriage. Aptegizhek, a skeleton that walked and talked, came to warn us not to sign away any land, no matter how distant from us, but to insist we were all children of Firekeepers by birth or marriage and to demand titles to our lands. This was precisely what we did Nashkowatak and I, as well as Mikenokwe, also demanded the return of Bison Prairie’s kidnapped children. Loos-gas found no allies in Bison Prairie other than missionary Ma-caynin and those who, like Wedasi and Shando, were driven by humiliation and fear. Loos-gas pretended to give in to our demands, and he gave Ma-caynin and the Lakebottom hunters supplies for the western journey.
As soon as Loos-gas and his train left Bison Prairie, the Lakebottom hunters filled themselves with firewater supplied to them by a whiskey peddler left behind by the headman. The drinking feast turned into a brawl and two men were killed; one of the victims was Miskokwe’s man Sogun, who had not wanted to accompany his cousins to the west.
Koyoshkwe, Meshewokwe and I helped Miskokwe arrange the burial ceremony. The Lakebottom hunters left Bison Prairie during the burial. Ma-caynin and Shando left with them, to see the Plains and to look for a place similar to Bison Prairie. Young Shawanetek longed to leave with his cousins Katwyn Cod-well, Pezhenkwe Robin-sin, Wabskeni Lashas and little Nagmo Lepeti, but Shawanetek’s mother, Meshewokwe, had no desire to leave Koyoshkwe’s lodge. And the boy’s father Naganwatek, who had once loved Menashi, was preparing to depart in the opposite direction, to accompany Aptegizhek back to Kekionga.
After the Lakebottom’s hunters set out to decimate the beaver in its next refuge, neither beavers nor peace returned to Bison Prairie. The whiskey peddler left behind by Loos-gas, a man called Bar-trend, did not follow the headman eastward nor the hunters westward. Bar-trend stayed in Bison Prairie and raised a whiskey tent on the path from Topash’s lodge to the river. The whiskey tent attracted youths who fancied themselves warriors when the liquid burned their brains, and who threatened all nearby villages.
When Topash and Nashkowatak asked Bar-trend to move his whiskey tent elsewhere, he waved a leaf in their faces. Nashkowatak recognized the leaf as the title to Menashi’s land section which stretched from the heart of our village to Boat- maker’s abandoned fort at the rivermouth. Menashi had apparently exchanged her Bison Prairie title for a title to western lands, and Loos-gas had given her title to the whiskey peddler.
Topash called for a council of Firekeepers. Cakima was irate at the man’s presence in our village, although as a girl she had brought a similar man, my father, to Bison Prairie. Wedasi, predictably, called for a war dance, but Topash and Meteya insisted on a peaceful confrontation and convinced most others. I accompanied the group that set out to expel the whiskey peddler. Bar-trend knew of the council’s resolve and fled. Several drunken youths guarded the whiskey tent, and when we approached, they shot at us. Young Shawanetek was wounded. Meteya was shot in the heart.
Nashkowatak and I carried the injured boy to Meteya’s lodge; there, Meshewokwe and Koyoshkwe applied salves to the wound and sang to the boy’s spirit. Koyoshkwe left Shawanetek in his mother’s care and threw herself into preparations for Meteya’s burial. Koyoshkwe shed no tears, showed no visible sorrow; she could have been arranging a child’s naming, but I knew that Koyoshkwe’s insides were tom. She had loved her father as much as one person can love another. She had considered Meteya her guide. She shared his shyness of talk, his love of trees and animals, his loneliness. The mere sight of her tearless face filled my eyes with tears; I was too sad to help her.
I went to share my sorrow with Wedasi, who had lived most of his life alongside Meteya. Wedasi too shed tears, but his were tears of humiliation. He spoke of himself as Damushkekwe had spoken of him, as a warrior with his mouth only, as a warrior who had not stopped a single abuse or a single murder. And he again spoke of Bison Prairie as a place where people could no longer live. His only thoughts were on Shando’s and Ma- caynin’s return with news of the west.
Koyoshkwe’s sister Wamoshkeshekwe wailed so the entire valley could hear. She wore a black dress given to her by Chebansi’s untouched bride Notanokwe, and she displayed her sorrow wherever people could see and hear her. Season after season Wamoshkeshekwe had listened to Notanokwe and to Shando’s mother telling her that her sinful life was to blame for the rape of Koyoshkwe, for the death of Topinbi, for the kidnapping of Pogon. Now she was to blame for the murder of her father. Wamoshkeshekwe made a show of moving out of Cakima’s lodge and into Mikenokwe’s, alongside Notanokwe. Her guilt led her to grieve in the crosswearers’ way, so showily that she made tearless Koyoshkwe seem hardhearted.
Cakima shed no tears for her dead cousin Meteya. Her main concern was the whiskey peddler, who had moved his post to the rivermouth after the shooting. Cakima and Chebansi were convinced that Loos-gas had left Bar-trend among us as a replacement for Kin-sic, to ruin Cakima’s post, to reduce us to misery, so as to make us beg to exchange our titles for food and supplies. Cakima spoke to Naganwatek as he prepared to leave with Aptegizhek. She asked Naganwatek to go further than Kekionga, to replace Topinbi and be her emissary to the Strait, to demand that Menashi’s title be returned to Menashi’s kin and to seek compensation for the murder of Meteya.
On the eve of Aptegizhek’s departure with Naganwatek, the skinny old man went to the bedside of Naganwatek’s son and placed small shells on Shawanetek’s wound and on the boy’s chest. Aptegizhek then scattered shells in other corners of Meteya’s lodge, near the entrances to other lodges and on spots where no lodges stood.
With the aid of Aptegizhek’s shells, Meshewokwe’s compresses, Koyoshkwe’s herbs and songs, Shawanetek soon recovered. I sang to the boy of ancient days when Rootkin regained their strength after encounters with monsters more powerful than drunken youths, and of the spirits who guided and protected those of us who could see them. At first the boy put a wall between himself and me. He said he wanted only to rejoin his cousins, Nangisi’s youngest descendants Nagmo, Wabskeni and Katwyn. But Aptegizhek had left a mark on the boy.
The skinny granduncle who had lived a long life after being scalped, who seemed to defy death, impressed Shawanetek. When the snows melted, he accompanied Meshewokwe and Koyoshkwe to the cornfields and into the forest to gather herbs, and he began to sing Koyoshkwe’s songs. At last he told me he too wanted what Aptegizhek surely had: a protector, a spirit- guide.
The joy of the new spring was on the faces of Meshewokwe and Koyoshkwe the morning I set out with Shawanetek. I led him deep into the forest to a hill at the turn of a stream, the same hill to which Shabeni had led me over twenty springs earlier. Shawanetek helped me prop a small rain shelter on an ancient birch overlooking the stream. When I got back to the village, I found Koyoshkwe and Meshewokwe already preparing to celebrate Shawanetek’s return from his fast. The void left in Koyoshkwe by Meteya’s death was partially filled by young Shawanetek; and in her aunt Meshewokwe, the youth’s mother, Koyoshkwe found something she hadn’t known before, loving friendship.
The celebration of Shawanetek’s dream was marred by the clamorous return of Shando and Ma-caynin from the west. Ma- caynin announced that he and Shando had found the promised land and that he had a title to it. Nashkowatak and I rushed to the mission to hear the good news. Ma-caynin’s voice drowned out all others, but the more he spoke the more evident it became that he wasn’t speaking of an actual place.
Ma-caynin said we could all reach the promised land if we kept reaching for better things; he said all people were beasts by birth, and all could grope their way from bestiality to civility. He reminded me of my childhood teacher, Misus Bay-con. Yet Wedasi was entranced by the man’s words; he seemed to have forgotten our animosity toward Misus Bay-con; he behaved as if the empty words annulled his life’s humiliations and restored his missing leg.
Nashkowatak and I separated Shando from his mentor and pressed Shando to speak of the place he had visited. Shando admitted that the place was dry the year round, with no connected lakes through which to paddle bark canoes and no birches with which to make the canoes; the animals and the plants were not those that had sustained our ancestors, and there were no sap-bearing maples; traders were established wherever paths intersected, and uniformed armed men guarded the posts; the original inhabitants of the place were being driven toward the Sunset Mountains to make room for the newcomers, and armed Invaders were crossing the Long River in hordes, denuding earth of her cover.
Yet after all his admissions, Shando persisted in speaking of the place as the promised land, which he also named Caynin. I remembered that as a boy I had been warned of the Invaders’ powerful sorcery. In Misus Bay-con’s school I hadn’t been impressed. Now I was impressed. Ma-caynin had bewitched Shando and Wedasi. He gave them everything they lacked: full villages of kin, powerful spirit-guides and healthy limbs. But his gifts lodged only in his head; they were mere words—words which emptied Shando and Wedasi while seeming to fill them.
Naganwatek’s return from the Strait in a house on wheels brought everything in Bison Prairie to a standstill. We all thought Naganwatek had brought five Invaders into Bison Prairie when we saw the strangely dressed occupants of the rolling lodge, two of them with yellow hair. Only gradually did I recognize the minister-like youth in black as Shando’s son Pogon, the two youths in traders’ clothes as my nephews Wimego and Mikinak, the two women, one in a red dress that clashed with her yellow hair, the other in black, as my sister Wabnokwe and her friend Liket. My eyes fixed themselves on the object suspended from Wimego’s neck, on Menashi’s greenstone pendant; it seemed misplaced in front of the trader’s jacket, below the yellow hair.
Nashkowatak was the first to recognize the guests. He greeted our sister by asking if she had come to rejoin her kin, or only to show them to her friend. Cakima backed away embarrassed, as if she were ashamed to be one of us. Cakima’s composure returned when she turned to her grandson Wimego, who was not as shockingly foreign to her. The youth’s clothes, his blue eyes, his shyness surely reminded her of her first view of trader Burr-net.
Nashkowatak persisted in his rudeness. Instead of inviting the guests to the chairs in Cakima’s councilroom, he announced that since the guests were not really guests but Firekeepers returning to their kin-village, the place to greet them was the councilground. From their very manners Nashkowatak knew that the guests had been accepted among the Invaders as he had not been, and his rudeness was his way of questioning their need to return to their kin-village during its last days. I was afraid he would stretch his inappropriate offers to the point of asking Koyoshkwe to prepare a sweat lodge and me to start a dance, but he stopped with his invitation to the councilground. Shando’s mother, incensed by Nashkowatak’s invitation, pulled her grandson Pogon and also Liket away from the rest of us, toward the crosswearers’ lodge.
Wabnokwe and the two youths accepted the invitation to the councilground; Koyoshkwe and I lit a fire. Wedasi hobbled out of the mission house. Chebansi came out of the store. Wabnokwe told us she and Liket had come to Bison Prairie to urge us not to leave the Peninsula, and to help us stay if they could. The three youths had returned for reasons of their own, although their coming together was less than a coincidence.
I was under the impression that headman Loos-gas was honoring his promise to us by returning the youths to us. Wedasi’s son quickly disabused me of this impression. Mikinak told us Loos-gas intended to forcefully remove all the free villagers who still hunted and danced on our side of the Long River, and he had begun to carry out his intention by recruiting the youths in the southern academy into his armies. Mikinak and Wimego had not been recruited because their trainers had known they would turn their rifles in the wrong direction as soon as they were given rifles. Pogon had not been recruited because he had become the minister’s favorite and during all his five years at the academy, Pogon had learned only to pray, not to shoot. When the academy broke up, the minister gave Pogon a purse of coins with which to return to his people so as to teach them the Word of God, and it was thanks to Pogon’s purse that the three youths were able to travel on the Invaders’ paths.
Mikinak spoke without an accent, but his manner was foreign, and he punctuated his statements with foul expressions in the Invaders’ language. He was what Wedasi had wanted him to be, a warrior, but Wedasi looked ill at ease beside him, and when Mikinak was done speaking, Wedasi hobbled back to the mission. The contempt with which Mikinak spoke of Pogon was heard by everyone. I saw that the youth looked at me with unmistakable contempt. Wedasi fled before his son turned to him and called him a powerless cripple.
When the council ended, I saw Shawanetek approach Wimego and Mikinak to invite them to lodge with him at Koyoshkwe’s. Both youths turned their backs to Shawanetek as someone unworthy of their attention. Wimego accompanied Wabnokwe to Cakima’s lodge; he had undoubtedly become used to raised beds, chairs and plates. Mikinak asked where the whiskey was kept and made his way to the whiskey peddler’s post.
A few days later, Nashkowatak and I visited our sister to learn what truth there was in Mikinak’s description of the Invaders’ intentions. We found Cakima in a death-like trance and Chebansi incapacitated by a trembling fit. Wabnokwe told us that the Strait’s trader Jay-may was dead, that his successors would not have given anything to Topinbi, and would not even open their door to Naganwatek. Wabnokwe and her friends had succeeded in arranging a council between Naganwatek and the headman, but to no avail. The headman’s response to Cheban- si’s messages had been that the government owed Burr-net nothing, neither a title nor compensation, and the headman had spoken of Bar-trend as the owner of Menashi’s land section. Wabnokwe thought Chebansi ought to prepare another appeal to the headman, and offered herself as messenger.
Another brawl had broken out and Shawanetek was injured again. For several nights Mikinak had been joining the drunken youths at Bar-trend’s whiskey post. Mikinak had excited the youths with talk of war until at last they had all set out in search of enemies. Shawanetek, still trying to befriend Mikinak, had approached the demented youths. Mikinak had called Shawanetek the son of a traitor, had referred to me as a sorcerer and to Nashkowatak as an enemy agent. Shawanetek had replied that the only traitors in Bison Prairie were the drunkards who had murdered Meteya. Mikinak and his confederates responded to Shawanetek’s accusation by surrounding and beating the younger boy. Koyoshkwe overheard the exchange, fetched Meshewokwe and Topash, and saved the boy from serious harm.
I ran to Koyoshkwe’s. The boy wasn’t there. Meshewokwe was in tears. Shawanetek had refused to let Meshewokwe or Koyoshkwe treat his bruises, and had joined his father and the others who were ready to leave Bison Prairie.
Koyoshkwe accompanied me to the dismantled mission. Rev-rend Ma-caynin and his assistants were done packing, and were waiting for Shando to return from his last visit with his mother, wife and son. Wedasi was ready to leave without parting words for anyone. Naganwatek and his son were alongside Wedasi. Naganwatek told me Meshewokwe had found Koyoshkwe and no longer needed him. He was a carrier and he had once loved Menashi; he had wanted to go west ever since Menashi had left; now that there would be no more carrying to or from Bison Prairie, he had no reason to stay, and the beating of his son made him eager to leave quickly. Shawanetek, still bleeding from untended bruises, defiantly told me he’d had better friends on the Lakebottom than he’d found in Bison Prairie, and he wanted only to rejoin his friends. When the caravan began to move, Shawanetek thanked me for helping him find his dream-spirit; he did not thank Koyoshkwe, and he did not give me a parting word for Meshewokwe.
My cousin Nesoki, dressed in black, was at the head of the departing caravan, alongside Rev-rend Ma-caynin. Ma-caynin had pulled Nesoki away from Mikenokwe and the other crosswearers by addressing him as chief To-pin-a-bee and speaking of him as the son and heir of the former chief, as the spokesman of Kichigami’s Firekeepers, as the savior who led his people to the promised land. Ma-caynin knew that Nesoki had never been so important, and that Nesoki’s rebirth as Christ and Wiske would turn Nesoki into a pliant tool, useful for Ma-caynin’s dealings with other Invaders in the promised land.
The leaves fell from the trees and soon snow covered the tracks of those who had departed. Nashkowatak and Topash left, to hunt. Koyoshkwe and Meshewokwe tied the ribs of snow- shoes and sang songs of mourning. In midwinter Wimego entered our lodge, only to visit, he said, but he stayed on. He let Koyoshkwe and me know that he had not returned to Bison Prairie to do what his grandmother Cakima expected of him. With Lokaskwe’s yellow hair and Burr-net’s blue eyes, Wimego could have become trader Burr-net in any of the Invaders’ camps along the way from the southern academy to the Strait.
He told us he no longer knew who his kin were, and had returned to seek them. He remembered that Menashi had been his refuge, that he had trustingly accompanied her to the Wabash, and that she had given him away to the academy’s recruiting agent in exchange for a purse and a promise. He remembered that Nashkowatak had also been on the Wabash, too drunk to protect or even recognize his own son. On the eve of his departure, he had run to Menashi and buried his face in her bosom. She had pushed him away, hung Shutaha’s pendant around his neck, and told him the greenstone would help him learn the Invaders’ ways.
Wimego didn’t want to learn their ways; he feared the Invaders. He had not forgotten what they had done to Koyoshkwe and Topinbi. But his mother pushed him away, and the boy felt rejected, alone and kinless. He gave himself to his trainers as completely as Nashkowatak had once done. He cropped his hair, wore clothes that kept the sun from his skin, carried his snot in his pocket and his sweat in his underclothes. He imprisoned his neck in a stiff collar and his feet in leather boots. He learned how to read from paper while forgetting how to read from branches and animal tracks. He learned how to sleep on a raised bed, comb his shorn hair, eat with a fork, use a toilet, pray to the savior and shoot a rifle, while forgetting how to give and share. He learned to ridicule and despise his kin for their inability to eat with forks or read from paper. Like his cousin Mikinak, he learned to think of his mother as a prostitute, his father a drunkard, his uncles a pimp, a cripple and a sorcerer. But he did not lose his fear of the Invaders; he never forgot that their likes had raped Koyoshkwe and murdered Topinbi. His trainers knew he hated them, and when they began to recruit youths into their army, they rejected Wimego for the same reason they rejected Mikinak, as untrustworthy.
Koyoshkwe, Meshewokwe and I could not keep our eyes dry; we were saddened as much by Wimego’s story as by the manner in which he told it. He spoke as if he felt nothing, as if he were empty, as if his heart had been removed. He asked nothing of us, seemed to want nothing from us.
Remembering my own return after my years of schooling on the Strait, I reminded Wimego that I had promised to build him a fasting lodge. Wimego looked at me with the same contempt I had seen in Mikinak’s eyes, and said that any fool who fasted long enough would see things that weren’t real.
When Nashkowatak returned, Wimego spoke not a word to his father. But when the ground softened, Wimego appeared to soften too. He accompanied Koyoshkwe and Meshewokwe, he followed Koyoshkwe to the forest to gather herbs, he questioned Koyoshkwe about the uses of the barks and roots.
When he asked me to guide him to a fasting lodge, I thought his heart was returning, I thought he wanted to become one of us. I delayed as long as I could because he learned none of the songs, did not give signs of even hearing me. But I remembered my own frustration at having my dream deferred, and I gave in to his request.
Koyoshkwe was uneasy when Wimego and I left her lodge and headed toward the forest. I sang, unaccompanied, along the trail to the hillside where Shawanetek and I myself had dreamed; Wimego followed, silent. I repaired Shawanetek’s rain shelter unaided, and left Wimego in it.
Remembering Topinbi’s interruption of my first dream, I resolved to leave Wimego alone for a fortnight. But only two or three nights after we had set out, I had a bad dream, and the following morning I prepared to return to the hillside, not to interrupt but only to see.
As I stepped out of the lodge, I saw Mikinak and his painted companions enter the village carrying a body. Villagers gathered around the youths. Mikinak announced that he and his companions had been scouting and had seen a band of Scalpers surround and murder Wimego. Mikinak urged the village men to arm themselves and follow him in pursuit of the enemy. Koyoshkwe screamed as if she’d just waken from a nightmare and ran toward the body, Nashkowatak and I close behind her.
Koyoshkwe pushed Mikinak and his friends aside, took the dead body in her arms, examined the eyes, the mouth. With a trembling hand she gave me the greenstone pendant. Between sobs she said that Wimego had questioned her only about poisonous roots. Wimego had not been surrounded or murdered. He had eaten the root of a mayapple.
I did not join Nashkowatak in drowning the pain with whiskey, but I was as dazed as he, and Koyoshkwe made all the burial arrangements unaided. Except for Mikinak, who confined himself to Bar-trend’s post at the Rivermouth during the burial, everyone in the village, even the crosswearers, took part in Koyoshkwe’s ceremony. Numerous unrealized and conflicting expectations went into the ground with the yellowhaired youth.
Mikinak did not return to the village until a band of visitors arrived from the west, and then he returned painted, armed and defiant, making no apologies for his lie about Wimego’s death. The visitors were young Redearth warriors, and Mikinak entered the village as one of them. I stared with amazement at the painted face of one of the warriors; the eyes were frighteningly familiar to me. I approached him and learned he was Shabeni’s son Komenoteya, small like his mother and with Mimikwe’s distant and sorrowful eyes, the eyes that I too had gotten from my great-grandmother Menoko.
Komenoteya came to us with a message from his wife’s father, the Redearth warrior Macataimeshekiakak. He told us that greedy stoneseekers were on Mishigami’s other shore, digging in sacred places, gouging in mountains and burrowing into ancestral grounds. They were killing all who stood between them and their stones, driving the other shore’s villagers to seek refuge among the Redearth kin on the western shore of the Long River.
The refugees were angry; they were painting themselves and dancing; they were resolved to put an end to the extermination of the other shore’s Rootkin. Many, among them Komenoteya’s father Shabeni, thought that Rootkin were too few to paint themselves and dance, too few to face the Invaders on yet another battlefield. But Macataimeshekiakak and other Redearth warriors, including Shabeni’s son, were sure that the Peninsula’s Rootkin, victims of so many incursions and murders since the days of the first plagues, would make common cause with the Redearth kin, and then the warriors would not be too few. The message was a call to gather at the Leaning Tree village for a war council with kin from both shores.
Bison Prairie’s Firekeepers listened to the Redearth messengers, many with deep sympathy, but they agreed with Shabeni that we were too few to confront the Invaders with weapons in hand. Only Mikinak and his drinking companions committed themselves to attending the war council at the Leaning Tree. But after the messengers had moved on to recruit in neighboring villages, when Mikinak prepared to set out, his companions lost their courage. They were as ready to boast as they were to defend their whiskey supplier from unarmed men and boys, but they were not ready to go to war.
Mikinak severed his friendships and prepared to depart alone. Koyoshkwe begged me to talk to the hotheaded youth, to show him the Firekeepers’ bundle, to keep him in Bison Prairie, but to go with him if I couldn’t keep him from going. She begged me to return with him, and with Mimikwe’s son if I could. Bison Prairie was half empty. Koyoshkwe feared that a war would bring complete desolation.
But talking to Mikinak was beyond my powers. I sang and I spoke, but Mikinak did not say a word to me during the entire journey. He knew I was with him only to restrain him, just as Shabeni had once restrained Wedasi. Mikinak’s father had admired Shabeni. Mikinak hated me; he tolerated my company only because I knew the way.
The council was already under way when we beached our canoe. Mikinak promptly turned his back to me and headed toward Komenoteya and the other Redearth warriors. I saw Shabeni on the opposite side of the circle and sat down near him. I listened to one after another Redearth warrior urge his listeners to prepare for war. I listened to the speakers on my side decline the invitation to war, ridicule the childish rashness of the Redearth speakers, warn of the prospects, accuse the warriors of wanting to hasten our demise.
I knew I was seeing the last great councilfire on the Great Lakes, and my eyes filled with tears. My thoughts agreed with those of Shabeni and the other peacemakers, but my sympathies were with Mimikwe’s son and the Redearth warriors. To me, the Firekeepers and carriers on my side, even Shabeni, seemed similar to the boasters who gathered at Bar-trend’s whiskey post. They praised the feats of ancient warriors but accepted gifts, powder and whiskey from the present enemy.
I had an urge to rise, to dance, to scatter the shells that would revive the ancient Peninsulakin. I didn’t rise, but my eyes wandered across the fire and came to rest on the face of a woman, a familiar face framed by straight black hair. Fierce eyes, lit by the fire and the full moon, looked directly into mine, made my head spin, entranced me. I sank to the ground and I dreamed of my near-death on the Morningland battlefield, of my inability to find Udatonte, and of my attempts to stray from and then to stay on the path of a bundle-carrier until it led me to the village by the Leaning Tree, where I thought I was about to rejoin Udatonte.
The sun was rising when I woke from my dream. The last council was over, the fire was all burnt out, most of the warriors were gone. A few people still sat at various points along the broken circle; the sun in my eyes kept me from seeing their faces. I rose from the ground and walked past the burnt-out fire. I saw that the people who remained were old women and men who stared at the still hearth or dozed. I leaped forward when I saw that the woman with the black hair and fierce eyes was still there—and then I stopped. The eyes weren’t fierce; they were distant and tortured. The hair was black and straight, and it hung down to the ground like a tent, but the face it framed was as wrinkled as bark.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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