Part 1: Moon’s Magic, Mother’s Blood
The heavy fluttering of wings alerted Massie that Avarice was winging his way into her kitchens. The large crow floated through the window and landed expertly on the table, missing the stone crockware entirely. He cocked his black, feathered head toward Massie and said, "She'll be here soon. Be kind, Mama."
The kitchen door slammed open, jarring and shaking everything in the lodge as the excited brown-haired girl burst into the kitchen.
"Mama, Mama!" God-be-Good shouted as she poled her fingers at her mother. "It's finally happened. I've got my moon's blood! I've got it!"
Massie smiled warmly at her daughter as she touched and then tasted the blood on her girl's finger tips.
"Yes, you do," she said as she gathered Goodie into her arms and her her close.
"Now i can be a Spirit-healer like you," she whispered.
"oh sweetling," Massie said with hurt in her voice as she hugged Goodie. "There is something you must know.
Part 2: Once Upon A Time
Goodie lay and sobbed beneath her heavy quilt, the late afternoon sun slanted through her open window and speared and exploded each dust mote that floated within its killing zone.
Avarice hopped around the outside of the quilt as he worked to ge closer to Goodie's head. "Don't cry," he pleaded as he poked at her with his beak.
"I hate you!" she screamed from under the cover. "You all knew that I couldn't inherit the magic!"
Avarice hopped even closer to her head and said, "I'll tell you a story if you stop crying."
Goodie slung the quilt aside, sending Avarice into the air and glared at the crow. "You knew," she accused him.
"Not all are born to do magic," he said as he landed back on the bed and rubbed his head against her arm. "Some are born to be a hidden princess."
"I'm not a princess," she replied angrily.
"You're only twelve," Avarice said. "You don't know what you're going to grow into yet."
Part 3: Little Brothers
Pollux raced far ahead of the angry search party and followed the ridge line upwards. he hoped and prayed that he would find Castor first, the men following behind were out for blood for all their dead calves and goats. He kept his head up and scanned forward up the trail. Despite knowing where it should be, he lost precious minutes as he searched for the hidden cleft that led up to the hidden mountain spring. Pollux was extremely careful as he stepped from moss-covered rock to bare rock, and used every bit of his mountain-skill to leave no tracks as he climbed the tree and vine obscured cleft.
As he pulled himself up the natural chimney, his eyes found his twin brother Castor sitting on a boulder next to the spring, a young wolf curled up at his feet.
Cas spied him and immediately said, "She didn't kill those calves and goats."
Pollux edged closer, wary of the wolf, who ignored him. "How can you be sure?" he asked his younger twin brother.
Castor glanced down at the she-wolf and Pollux noticed that his brothers' eyes had changed. They were now longer brown, but the same gold color as the wolf's. Castor looked back up at Pollux and said, "I know what she knows and it wasn't her."
"If not her, than who or what." Pollux asked.
"Stanton Dill's pack of dogs," Castor answered. "That big brindle is a killer and he's leading that pack."
"If you can see what she sees," Pollux started. "Then that makes you and Ani-mage, Castor."
Castor lowered his head and softly said, "It's not my fault she came to me and chose me. I'm sorry. I know Mama wanted you to be chosen."
"She'll just have to deal with it," Pollux said. "But we have to get you and your wolf off this mountain before those men trailing me find us both."
Part 4: Lines Are Drawn
Catharine Brooks stood inside her cabin glared daggers and her two twin teenage sons. "It wasn't supposed to be you," she snarled at her youngest, Castor. Pollux stepped between them, using his body like a fence to separate Castor and his snarling wolf animus from his raging mother.
"It should have been you, Pollux," she shrieked as spittle flew from her lips. "You're the gifted one! You're smart and strong! You're the one I trained to succeed. He'll be a failure as an Ani-mage!"
Pollux stood steady, a rock between his mother and his beloved brother. "It's his heart that proved worthy," Pollux said. "the wolf chose rightly."
"Then the wolf is a fool and so are you," Catharine hissed.
Castor's Heart wrenched with each hateful angry word and it was all he could do to keep the she-wolf from launching herself at his mother.
"There's also another problem," Pollux said.
"What?" Catharine spat. "What else could go wrong?"
"The village's men are behind us, tracking us," Pollux said. as his mother's eyes lit again with fire and anger, Pollux quickly continued. "Stanton Dill's dog pack is killing again, but they're blaming Castor's wolf. They'll be here anytime."
"Good!" Catharine shouted. "We can let them kill that cur of Castor's and then maybe an animus will chose you!"
Pollux and Castor stared at their mother, stunned for a moment from her spiteful reply.
"You'd had us cursed then?" Pollux quietly asked.
"Yes," was her only reponse
Pollux made a quick decision and said, "Castor, go to your room and grab our hunting kits and packs. I'll get us some food from the larder and we'll leave now." Castor and his animus ran to his room while Pollux pushed past his mother to the larder. He talked to her as he hurriedly put bread and cheese and fruit into a knapsack that hung by the backdoor. "We'll head west to the Cherokee towns. They'll be able to teach Castor what he needs to be an Ani-mage."
"Then you'd better move fast," his mother said. "Because I'll tell them where you're going."
Pollux said nothing else as he stuffed more food into the bag.
Part 5: Speak Your Fear
Awinita glided gracefully beside her bother, her moccasin clad feet barely skimming the hard-trodden path that lead upward to Tsuwa'tel'da. Jonas took a second to glanced down at his younger sister and grimaced as her dancer's gait and gently waving, long dark hair attracted the eyes of the young bucks toiling in and around the stores and shops that crowded the road of this Cherokee town that stood at the gate that lead up to Tsuwa'tel'da.
Awinita stopped at the wooden gate and quietly studied the living wood and the animals and insects and plants that were carved upon its surface. If one was quiet enough and patient, you could see the spirits embedded in the wood slowly move their totems. To Jonas's surprise. Awinta announced, "I am afraid."
"Of the rude men's stares," Jonas sternly asked as he scowled at the young men's brave, bold looks.
"No, Wutli," she giggled. "I fear that I may fail as a Spirit-Woman."
"You'll never know if you don't go in," Jonas said as he put his strong shuolder tot he gate and pushed inward.
Part 6: Tsiligi Magic
Agasa ground the dried cat-tail into her stone pestle. Sweat dribbled down the bridge of her nose and she used her sleeve to wipe it off before it could drip into her dry mixture. She arched her neck to relieve some of the strain using her shoulders to grind the mixture and said, "Name the four colors, Tsiyi."
"My name is not Tsiyi, is is John Franklin." her son replied stonily. "But the colors are Blue, White, Red, and Black."
"Tell me more," she said as she continued to grind the cat-tail into a much finer dust.
"Blue is of the North and so is trouble, Red rises from the East and it means success, White is from the South and so is happiness, and Black flows from the West and it carries Death," he answered.
"What do the English say?"
"That our beliefs are superstitious and there is no truth in our medicine."
"What do we say?" Agasga quried.
John Franklin tried to keep his voice as stoic as his possible, but pride still came out. "That we have our medicine, our lore, and we are still free."
Part 7: Trust Me
Pollux and Castor made their way North by following the Trade Road that paralleled the Tugalo River. They were already deep in the Cherokee Nation and each step brought them closer to Tsuwa`tel’da, the Cherokee city of medicine and learning. Cas stopped and adjusted his pack because the straps were biting deep into his shoulders. He watched silently as his wolf animus disappeared off the trail to scout ahead.
“The wolf should have chosen you,” Cas said as Pol walked back to see why he’d stopped.
“Trust her choice, brother,” Pol said as he helped adjust Castor’s pack. “I do.”
“Why,” Castor asked.
Pollux smiled as the wolf loped back into view cashing a rabbit. “Because she knew I’m not a wolf, you are.”
Part 8: One Last Bolt
Capitaine Lambert pressed the point of his saber against John’s chest, just hard enough to open a shallow cut. John made no sound as he clenched his jaw as the steady rain washed the blood down and away from the wound. Lambert nodded at Agasga Adair and said, “What will you do now, witchua? You are trapped and your son lives or dies by my decision. It appears your quiver of tricks is finally empty.”
Agasga flicked her sodden hair away from her eyes and pointed her flintlock pistol at Lambert, the cold rain running off it and down her steady arm.
“Your powder, it is wet,” Lambert sneered. “That’s why a sword in the rain makes such an efficient weapon.”
Agasga aimed and spoke, “Ukayodi Atsilu,” as she pulled the trigger. Flame billowed from the barrel as the ball punched into Lambert’s chest.
Part 9: A Bright Future Still Shining
John Franklin sat in front of his grandfather’s home as the sun dropped closer to the western mountains, the many paths of his future darkening, leaving fewer and fewer choices. The door swung open and both smoke and chanting escaped outside, dispersing in the evening air. Red-hand walked slowly outside and lowered himself next to his grandson. He glanced at the setting sun and said, “I’ve always loved seeing the sun set over these mountains, it’s how I know I’m home.”
“Will she be okay,” John Franklin asked.
“Your mother’s spirit is depleted and she may never be the same, but she lives,” Red-hand answered.
“Why did her medicine hurt her so?” John Franklin asked.
Red-hand shook his long white hair and said, “To create something from nothing is strong medicine. She had to use her own spirit to spark that pistol and it took most of it.”
“My path is now set,” John Franklin said as his anger and hate rose from his stomach. “The French must die.”
“No, Tsiyi,” Red-hand said. “Your future is still bright, you will go to Tsuwa`tel’da to learn the medicine of the Cherokee.”
Part 10: The Right Decision
Goodie dragged her final suitcase over to the wagon and spun and heaved it over the side. With a startled yelp, she dived out of the way as it sailed right back at her. Her older brother, Armor-of-God, looked over the side and frowned at her. “Mother said you were to come, but she didn’t say you could take everything you own.”
“She didn’t say I couldn’t,” Goodie retorted.
Armie knuckled his forehead, right where the headache was starting. “You’re just a girl,” he said. “What’s in that suitcase that’s so important.”
Goodie dropped her head and softly muttered, “books.”
Armie shook his head and sighed knowing this was an argument that was unwinnable. He dropped off the side of the wagon, grabbed the suitcase and tossed it back in. He then grabbed his little sister and tossed her over into the wagon as she squawked like a little chicken. “Get in there and stow those bags,” he said. “It’s a long way to Tsuwa’tel’da.”
Part 11: Baptism
Sid closed his eyes and grabbed Torquay’s starched white shirt and stepped off into the cold Savannah River and gritted his teeth as the slimy mud from the river-bottom oozed between his toes. He clinched his eyes and trusted his brother to lead him to the bull-voiced preacher, as they waded out deeper and deeper into the slow moving water. Their wait was not long. When the preacher bellowed out ‘Who loves Jesus’, Torquay thrust him forward. The preacher’s big, calloused hands grabbed him with one hand behind his head and the other over his nose and mouth. Sid slid under the water and prayed that everything would be different when he surfaced. With a strong surge, Sid was forced back to the surface and the muddy water of the river sluiced off his face and chest. Cautiously he opened one eye, and sighed regretfully. The beautiful spirits were still there, dancing on top and around the river, singing their songs of joy and life.
Part 12: Companionship
Goodie’s reddish-blonde hair swung side to side as the oxen pulled the wagon north along the Cherokee trade-road. The Savannah River glinted on her left as hawks and crows and wrens and thrushes whistled and screamed in the forest that surrounded them. She allowed herself to lean against her older brother, who was also tired and dusty from the many days they’d travelled. As she allowed herself to rest, she thought she heard someone yell, “GOODIE! GOODIE! GOODIE!” She turned toward the sound and spied a black dot falling from the sky.
“AVARICE!” she squealed in delight as the old crow fluttered and lit on her uplifted arm.
Armie frowned at the happy, excited pair and said, “Now what? Doesn’t Mother and Father trust me?”
“They do,” the crow squawked. “But extra eyes are always useful.”
Armie flicked the reins and the oxen moved a fraction of a bit faster. “Well, your eyes are useful, but you just make sure you don’t return to your old thieving ways.”
Part 13: A Hanging Stopped
The sullen young man stood between his guards, his face blooded and bruised and his one good eye blazed with anger and hate. The fort’s captain sat at his desk and took the time to read the report. His old friend, Ernie Coats leaned against the wall and silently observed the preceedings.
“You are guilty of theft,” Captain Ross said without looking up, “and will be hanged tomorrow morning. Do you have anything to say?”
“To hell with you,” Wallace McCracken spoke through bloody lips.
The Captain frowned and pointed at the door. “Hang him, now.”
“Wait,” Ernest interjected as the guards forced young Wallace to the door. “He may have value, allow me to pay his debt.”
“Are you sure Ernest?” Captain Ross asked. “He stole and ruined 8 shillings worth of food and cloth.”
“Aye, I’m sure,” Ernest said as he reached for his purse.
“Just hang on a minute!” Wallace shouted as he shrugged and pushed against his guards. “He can’t do that!”
“Aye,” Captain Ross said as Ernest counted 8 shillings into his hand. “He can and he has.”
“He now owns you until you repay him his 8 shilling plus whatever other debt you pile on,” Captain Ross said and then looked at his guards and added, “Release the prisoner.”
Wallace grabbed the guards’ arms and said, “Don’t release the prisoner, I’d rather hang than be an indentured servant. Now let’s go and hang me like we agreed.”
“There’ll be no hanging, you fool boy!” Ross shouted. “Now get out of my office before I have my men whip you again!”
“Come along boy,” Ernest Coats said with a grin. “You’ll find that breathing is a sight more pleasant that choking at the end of a rope. And who knows, maybe you’ll find that working for me is better than stealing from soldiers and farmers.”
Part 14: The Teeth of a Gifted Horse
“You work hard and learn everything I can teach you, you’ll be a free man in seven years,” Ernest Coats said as he and Wallace McCracken led the heavily-packed trade mules north toward Augusta Landing.
Wallace whistled at his nearly new clothes that almost fit and said, “I get that, but why’d did ya save me? I was going to hang, sure as the sun comes up, and I’d resigned myself to it.”
Ernest smiled at the young, strapping lad and said, “It’s a devilish sin to waste a life.”
“I’ve seen a lot of them wasted,” Wallace said. “But maybe my luck’s changed for once, although it’s hard to believe it’s real.”
“Believe or don’t believe,” Ernest said. “It don’t matter to me. Just keep your eyes and ears open and learn what you can.”
Part 15: The Beginning of Wisdom
Wallace tended the small campfire and fed it small branches and twigs to get a good bed of coals going. He had the frying pan out and pre-greased with the bacon and beans ready to add. His stomached rumbled a bit as he laid out some hard-tack to fry. Ernest should be back anytime and he’d also be hungry.
The pack-mules snorted and stamped their hooves at the picket-line and Wallace glanced their way. The packs were still stowed on the saplings he’d cut down and laid on the ground. Ernest had been impressed with his idea as a way of keeping the trade-goods off the wet ground and allowing the mules to rest. Both the mules and the packs were close to the campfire, a justifiable precaution against this regions overabundance of bears, painters, and wolves.
Wallace had fed the fire enough wood to his practiced eye, so he grabbed his cheap English musket and moved to an old hickory tree that was bit away from the fire. Anyone coming up the trade-road would see the fire and ruin their night-sight, so he’d be practically invisible in the shadow of the hickory. As he stood there, with his back against the tree and the fires warmth leaving him, he heard voices drift up from the road that led to Augusta Landing. He carefully slowed his breathing and listened.
“Torquay, you and Sidmouth made the right choice agreeing to work for me,” He heard Ernest Coats say. “It would be a sin to waste your lives as orphans at the Landing.”
Wallace’s eyes narrow as those words flicked his nose. That was almost the same exact thing Ernest had said to him. Doubt cast a new shadow across Wallace’s new-found security.
Part 16: The Shadow Reached
On the fifteenth day of travelling, they walked into a large Muscogee village.
“Where are we?” Wallace asked Ernest as the village poured out of their homes and fields and gathered round, curious about their visitors.
“Snoden,” Ernest said. “It’s the largest village around. Wallace, you and Torquay and Sid, take the mules and unload them into that lodge.” Ernest pointed out a building on the edge of the village. Obedient, the boys did as they were instructed, but Wallace watched as Ernest walked up to a big Indian and shake his hand.
With the Indians help, the boys quickly unloaded the mules and stowed the trade-goods in the back of the wooden lodge, but when they tried to leave the lodge, their smiling hosts and their sharp spears barred their way.
“What’s going on here!” Wallace yelled out the door to Ernest.
Ernest and the big Indian walked over to the lodge and the boys trapped inside and said, “I told you Wallace, you and those other boys have got value.”
Part 17: Vengeance Denied, A Dream Dies
Smoke twisted and curled across the field, unnaturally quiet now that the screams had stopped. Crows were the first to claim the spoils of the dead as the buzzards circled high above, and waited for their turn at this grizzly table. John Franklin lay quietly in the mud and breathed slow and tried to will the musket-ball out of his gut. The pain of his wound ached in waves of nausea that raced from his lower stomached to his throat. He wondered if he’d die screaming like many of the other young men in his war-party. Twenty-two against a hundred, even though they had killed many of the French and their allies, they had been stupid. A weathered hand touched his shoulder and fierce old eyes stared into his young face.
“You now belong to the Muscogee,” the old man said. “I will heal you and you will work in the field you helped sowed with the blood of the French and the Muscogee. Do not think it will be better than death.”
John Franklin screamed once as the old man lifted him out of the mud.
Part 18: Awinita’s Puzzle Solved
Awinita and Jonas had now been at the gate that led into Tsuwa’tel’da for three weeks, but her guides were still absent. The elders here would not answer her questions or lead her to Tsuwa’tel’da no matter how sweet she smiled. All they would say was, go see the old medicine man, but when she knocked on his door, he would never answer.
She finally decided to sit at his door until he acknowledged her. She sat for seven days with Jonas as he guard, bringing her food and water. On the seventh day, the old medicine man shouted from inside his home, “Who sits outside my home?”
Awinita looked up and said, “It is I Awinita and I need your council.”
“Come back tomorrow, I’m busy?” the old man shouted back.
Awinita just sat and waited.
The next day as Awinita ate the food that Jonas brought his little sister, the old man shouted from inside his home, “Who sits outside my home?”
Awinita put her food down and said, “It is I Awinita and I need your counsel. I have cooked corn for lunch, do you want some?”
“Come back tomorrow, I’m busy!” The old man shouted and Awinita sat as her brother stood guard.
On the third day Awinita sat and ate the food that Jonas had brought her. From inside the old man shouted, “Who sits outside my home?”
From her seat, Awinita said, “It is I, Awinita and I have cooked corn and venison, would you like some?”
“No!” the old man shouted. “Didn’t I tell you yesterday that I am busy!” Awinita sat and waited as Jonas stood guard.
On the fourth day, Jonas brought his sister food and drink. As she ate, from inside, the old man shouted, “Who sits outside my home!”
Awinita laughed as she said, “You know it is I, Awinita, old man. My brother has brought me cooked turkey and squash today to eat, and he has a bottle of Scottish corn-water, would you like some?”
“You are still here,” the old man said. “I thought a family of mice had made a nest outside my door. Go home, I’m busy.” Awinita sat and waited as her brother watched over her.
On the fifth day, Awinita sat outside the door and ate and waited for the old man to shout.
“Who’s outside my door!” he shouted and Awinita quickly shouted back, “I am!”
She giggled and said, “My brother has brought me fish and English bread to eat and tobacco to smoke, would you like to share my lunch?”
“No, impertinent child!” the old man shouted back as the smoke from Jonas’s pipe drifted into the house. “Go home!” Awinita and her brother sat and waited. Awinita happy to hum and sing as Jonas smoked.
On the sixth day, Awinita sat and weaved a basket as she ate her mid-day meal and waited for the old man to shout.
“Who’s outside my door!” came the expected shout.
“You know who it is!” Awinita shouted back.
“What are you doing out there?” the old man shouted.
Awinita shrugged as she weaved the thin slats of white oak around each other to make her basket. “Since it appears I will be here a while longer, I decided to make some baskets to pass the time.”
“Do you have any of the venison and cooked corn?” the old man asked.
“Nope, it’s been eaten,” she shouted back.
“How about that turkey and squash?” came a hopeful shout.
“Fed it to the poor,” Awinita shouted back. “They were hungry.”
“What about the Scottish corn-water and the tobacco?” the old man shouted.
“Jonas drank it and smoked it,” Awinita said.
“ALL OF IT?” the old man shouted from inside with disbelief.
“Yes,” Awinita said.
“GO HOME!” the old man shouted in anger. Awinita sat and waited.
On the seventh day Awinita sat and waited outside the old man’s door. From inside she heard him yell, “Awinita, is that you outside?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“Open the door and come in,” the old man said.
Awinita opened the door and went inside. Jonas stopped at the door and waited. The old man sat beside his hearth, the fire banked and warm.
Awinita knelt before the old medicine man, her long, dark hair braided with silver beads and quietly asked, “Why do the Nunne’hi reject me?”
The old man smiled and clucked his tongue. “Beautiful child, no one controls the Nunne’hi. They come when they come.”
“Then I am lost,” Awinita said softly. “For only they can lead me to Tsuwa’tel’da.”
“No,” the old man said. “You are not lost for I know a secret. For seven days you must fast, and on the seventh, you must dance. If your dance is pleasing, the Nunne’hi will show themselves.”
Awinita rose and kissed the old shaman’s grizzled cheek before she left with Jonas to prepare herself for her dance.
After she had left, the old man opened his door and looked outside and found a newly made basket. Inside the basket was cooked corn, squash, venison, turkey, fish, Scottish corn-water, and tobacco. He laughed with an old man’s joy as he took the bag inside.
Part 19: A Secret Used
The sun inched closer to the mountains and the seventh day was coming to a close. Awinita opened the door of the house that the town’s people had provided and stepped outside in the chilled evening air. She had dressed in her white blouse and traditional red skirt, but this evening she left her shoes off and felt the dust and dirt of the ground as she gripped it with her toes. Jonas followed her outside in his usually buckskins, barely taking any time to finger-comb his hair out of his eyes. With a low and deep rumble, his stomached growled at the world.
Awinita laughed and tossed her dark hair behind her shoulder, the silver beads that hung in it flashes and twinkled in the light of the dying sun. “Brother,” she said kindly. “You were not required to fast with me.”
Jonas shrugged and reached inside the door and grabbed a drum. When the village had learned of Awinita’s task, many drums had been brought to her, but the one Jonas had chosen was one the villagers thought was unsuitable. It was old and the paint was dim and faded, but Jonas liked the tautness of the skin and the thump-thump-thump sound it made as he played it. So it was the one he kept and sent the other newer, brightly painted drums back to their owners.
“It’s time,” Jonas said and gestured for Awinita to lead the way, and she did. She walked to the center of the Lower Town and found the townsfolk waiting. The faces were serious, but kind, and she was heartened by their compassion. As she strode forward the crowd part and revealed a fire burning in the center. As the sun continued to set, it was the only light left. Awinita walked up to the fire and knelt accepting its warmth.
Behind her, Jonas sat on the ground and played his old drum, its sound deep and steady. Tump. Jonas started and Awinita stood and raised her head and stretched her arms, and she began to dance and Jonas played. The only sounds were Jonas’s fingers hitting the drum-skin and Awinita’s bare feet tapping the ground as she danced and swayed in front of the fire.
Jonas’s belly no longer growled, but now his head felt both heavy and light and bright flashes appeared before his eyes every time his fingers hit the drum. Distracted, his hands and fingers sought and found a rhythm that his ears couldn’t track, but Awinita’s feet and body did, as did the villagers that stood in the circle that encompassed them. Awinita weaved and the flame of the fire weaved with her, as she stepped, the shadows drew closer and flickered and flowed with her, so that as Jonas looked and played, his sister appeared to be mixed of both flame and shadow, neither one nor the other. Worried, Jonas played, not sure of what to do, afraid to continue, but more afraid of what might happen if he stopped. So he played and Awinita danced, her smile white and alive and her hair dark with only the silver beads showing in the light of the fire.
As Jonas’s resolve to stop playing grew, he noticed that the shadows around the fire deepened as the fire grew brighter and he thought he heard the light chirping of laughter. In the fire and the shadows, faces began to appear, beautiful faces and happy, friendly smiles. Awinita noticed them and bowed as she danced, a welcome to the Nunne’hi, who joined her and danced and began to sing.
Part 20: Trapped
Sidmouth and Torquay sat quietly in the corner of the dark lodge and watched as John Henry applied an herb poultice to Wallace’s wounds. Torquay stood up and walked over to John Henry and Wallace and glared at Wallace.
“You’ve got to stop running away, you fool,” Torquay hissed at Wallace. “What if you make them so mad that they decide to kill all of you! They may decide to kill all of us if you don’t quit!”
Wallace turned his bruised and scraped head and refused to meet the other boy’s glare.
“No,” John Henry contradicted as he spooned more of the poultice over Wallace’s wounds. “He’s too valuable to kill. We all are.”
“So, what will they do?” Torquay asked. “Will they keep beating him until he stops running away?”
“No,” John Henry answered. “Most likely they’ll cut off one of his feet. Slaves can still work with one foot.”
“Wallace!” Sidmouth spoke up from the corner. “You’ve got to become smarter. You’re our friend. If you keep trying to escape with no plan, you’re always gonna get caught and they’re always gonna beat you for doing it.”
“Better to be dead than a slave,” Wallace mumbled as he turned away from Torquay and Sidmouth.
Part 21: The Twins Next Stop
Robert Brooks and his sons sat at the table as his Cherokee wife brought bread, beer, and butter to add to the meat and fruit that was already there. Robert looked at Castor’s wolf and asked, “Did your mother run you off?”
Castor reached down and rubbed the young she-wolf’s ears and said, “She said it should have been Pollux.”
Robert nodded his head and said “She’s always been like that. Good looking woman, but she’s got a deep streak of mule-headed meanness in her. If life don’t happen how she likes it, she makes everybody suffer. Sorry that happened to you boys”
Robert cut the bread with a man-killer sized knife and shared it out along with the fresh butter. He pointed the knife at Pollux and said, “Where you two going?”
“You tell us,” Pollux said between mouthfuls of meat and bread.
Robert smiled, “North to Tsuwa’tel’da. It’s the only place your brother can learn about his gifts.”
“Good guess, or did you dream it?” Pollux asked.
Robert shook his head and glanced at his dark son, “I see you mother told you about one of my gifts. In my dreams I saw you and your brother walk here with his wolf. The rest is just knowing what you two have to do now,” Robert answered.
Robert’s wife came forward and poured them some more small beer and before she could go back to the kitchen, Robert pulled her close and whispered in her ear. She nodded and walked to the back of the house.
After waiting for her to leave, Pollux said, “We’re out of supplies, Father. Can you help us?”
Robert quickly answered, “Of course I will. I’ll make sure you have enough supplies to get you to the mountains, another set of clothes and a mule to carry it all.”
“Thank you father,” Castor said. “We’re truly grateful.”
“I also dreamed of something else,” Robert said.
Pollux and Castor gave their father their undivided attention.
“Gali!” Robert called to the back of the house. “Bring them here.”
From the back of the house, Robert’s wife came forward carrying two long-rifles, two powder horns, and two pouches of bullets. The boys’ eyes lit up with surprise and delight.
Pollux was the first to jump up and accept one of the rifles from Gali, lightening her load. Castor was not far behind and they quickly examined the weapons, running their hands down the barrels, marveling at their uniform straightness and perfection.
“Those guns are Pennsylvanian,” Robert said. “They’re the best you can get here in the Colonies. They’re rifled for a longer, truer shot and the flints are new.”
“Father,” Pol said reverently. “These are priceless. How can we thank you?”
“I’ll teach you how to shoot and reload tomorrow,” Robert said. “Learn to shoot straight. That will be enough.”
Part 22: The Gift
Robert Brooks and his sons sat at the table as his Cherokee wife brought bread, beer, and butter to add to the meat and fruit that was already there. Robert looked at Castor’s wolf and asked, “She ran you off?”
Castor rubbed the young she-wolf’s ears and said, “She said it should have been Pol.”
Robert nodded his head and said “She’s always been like that. Good looking woman, but she’s got a deep streak of mule-headed meanness in her. If life don’t happen how she likes it, everybody suffers. ”
Robert cut the bread with a man-killer sized knife and shared it out along with the fresh butter. He pointed the knife at Pollux and said, “Where you two going?”
“You tell us,” Pollux said between mouthfuls of meat and bread.
Robert smiled, “North to Tsuwa’tel’da. It’s the only place your brother can learn about his gifts.”
“Good guess, or did you dream it?” Pol asked.
“I saw you and your brother walk here with his wolf. The rest is just knowing what you two have to do now,” Robert answered.
Robert’s wife came forward and poured them some more small beer and as she went to go back to the kitchen, Robert pulled her close and whispered in her ear. She nodded and walked to the back of the house.
Waiting for her to leave, Pol said, “We’re out of supplies, Father. Can you help us?”
Robert quickly answered, “Of course. I’ll make sure you have enough supplies to get you to the mountains, another set of clothes and a mule to carry it all.”
“Thank you father,” Castor said. “We’re truly grateful.”
“I also dreamed something else,” Robert said.
Pol and Castor gave their father their undivided attention.
“Gali!” Robert called to the back of the house. “Bring them here.”
From the back of the house, Robert’s wife came forward carrying two long-rifles, powder horns, and pouches of bullets. The boys’ eyes lit up with surprise and delight.
Pollux was the first to jump up and accept one of the rifles from Gali, lightening her load. Castor was not far behind and they quickly examined the weapons, running their hands down the barrels, marveling at their uniform straightness and perfection.
“Those guns are Pennsylvania,” Robert said. “The best you can get here in the Colonies. They’re rifled for a longer, truer shot and the flints are new.”
“Father,” Pol said reverently. “These are priceless. How can we thank you?”
“I’ll teach you how to shoot and reload tomorrow,” Robert said. “Learn to shoot straight. That will be enough.”
Part 23: Listening to the Crow
The sun had risen hours ago and the wagon train was still parked on the side of the road outside the Fort of Augusta, the occupants eating the dust that rose from every horse and cart that rode by. Avarice perched on the backboard of the wagon and tease and picked at one of the tassels that hung from Goodie’s shawl.
Irritated, she slapped at the fat crow and shooed him off. “Why are we waiting here,” she asked.
Armie strained his neck and looked down the line at the other families and their wagons, before he answered. “We’re waiting on the guide, Goodie. It’s too dangerous to go North into Indian lands alone.”
As on cue, six rough-hewned, heavily armed men rode up on unkempt, shaggy horses. The obvious leader stood up in his stirrups and shouted, “WE WILL BE LEAVING SHORTLY! YOU GIT READY!”
Avarice took one look at the hired guides and ducked under Goodie’s shawl and whispered “Bad.”
Goodie gathered Avarice into her arms and echoed his sentiment to her big brother. “I don’t like those men,” Goodie said.
“We’ll be fine,” Armie said as he shook the oxen’s reins. “But why don’t you go in back and make sure the guns and hatchets are out where we can reach them.”
Part 24: Goodie’s Fear
On the second day after leaving Augusta, Goodie climbed over the backboard and climbed on the seat next to Armie. “I told you those men are bad and Avarice knows it too,” Goodie whispered into Armie’s ear as they drove North along the trade route.
Armie flicked the reins and set his jaw, “They’re trappers and hunters. That’s how they look.”
“They stare at Mary Swansea wrong,” Goodie said as two of the guides rode past the Swansea’s wagon on their horses.
“She’s pretty, everybody looks at her,” Armie said.
“You look at her like you want to say nice things and maybe kiss her,” Goodie said. “They stare at her like she’s one of momma’s pies and they haven’t ate in over a week. Avarice thinks you need to keep Daddy’s pistol loaded and your knife sharp.”
“You worry too much,” Armie said as he watched the road. “Nothing’s going to happen. There’s too many of us and too few of them. And besides, the further that crow gets from Momma, the dumber it gets.”
“Don’t care,” Goodie said and carefully placed the pistol on the seat next to Armie and draped a towel over it and then placed one of her precious books on top of that.
Armie looked at her with disapproval, but he did leave the gun where it was.
Part 25: A Girl’s Bravery
Goodie crouched inside the thick underbrush and stood over Armie’s unconscious body, her Daddy’s loaded pistol gripped two handed. Six days out of Augusta everything had gone to hell in a handbasket and the guides had shown their true colors and now she was hiding here and her brother cut bad and bleeding his life into the dirt. Goodie looked up and saw where Avarice was hidden high up in the branches of the trees, his sharp eyes scouting for the surviving guides. Armie’s had accounted for two of them with knife and pistol, but the other four had her boxed in. She fervently wished that she had Armie’s heavy bladed knife, but Armie had left it stuck in the ribs of the last guide that he’d killed.
Avarice’s quick whistle alerted Goodie to her immediate danger. Two of the reavers were carefully scanning and tracking the ground, rifles held lightly, but confidently in their hands. From the way they were moving, Goodie could tell that they would find her shortly. She let out a small breath and said quietly to herself, “Nothing for it,” and aimed at the closes man.
Part 26: A Coward Dies a Thousand Times
Goodie took a deep breath and slowly released it as the reavers stalked closer, following the bloody tracks she and Armie had left behind in their escape. She patiently waited for the front man to inch closer, knowing her one shot had to be sure and fatal.
Her heart no longer raced and her scattered thoughts stilled into a clear clarity of purpose. She smiled as she stood and aimed. As she pulled the trigger, three shots rang out and the reavers dropped like puppets with cut strings. To her surprise, two armed teenage boys and a wolf walked up.
Part 27: Goodie Meets Her Rescuers
Goodie stepped out of the thicket and pointed her now empty pistol at the two young men. “Why are you here?” Goodie she demanded as she stood between them and Armie.
“We were headed North when we saw the smoke and heard the gunfire,” the smaller, blonde boy said as the wolf trod forward and stood at his leg.
“We investigated and saw the dead bodies and men looting them and the wagons,” the taller, dark one said.
“That’s our wagons,” Goodie said. “The men who were guiding us, decided to rob us instead.”
“You’re lucky to be alive,” Blonde boy said.
“Yes,” Goodie said and pointed the gun at him. “Now who are you?”
“Ani-mage!” Avarice shouted from the tree tops. “Trust him, he’s an Ani-mage!”
Part 28: A Heart Hardens
Goodie stood in the middle of their last campsite as Castor and Pollux pulled blankets out of the surrounding wagons to make a bed for Armie. Everyplace she looked, she saw a dead, hacked body, and blood splattered over everything. After making a pallet on the ground for Armie, the two boys re-started the campfire and made a seat for Goodie. Numb, she sat down and Avarice flew in and lit on her shoulder.
“There were six of them,” Goodie said as she stared at the fire and tried to get warm. “They got us alone off the road and then they shot the men dead and started killing the women and children with their long-knives. Armie shot one and knifed another, but he got cut doing it. We had to run.”
Pollux handed her a cup of water and said, “Against those odds, running was the only thing you could do.”
“We got the other four,” Castor said as he put more wood on the fire.
Goodie looked at the bloody dead and said, “Good.”
Part 29: Blood Treasure
The next morning, Goodie was following Pollux and badgering him as he and Castor stowed Armie in the back of his and Goodie’s wagon.
“I can drive a wagon,” Goodie fussed at Pollux.
“She can drive,” Avarice cawed from on top of Goodie’s wagon.
“I ain’t listening to no girl or no crow about this,” he replied as he lashed another box of food and supplies onto the side of Goodie’s wagon, next to the guns and black powder. “You’ll ride with Castor and see to Armie, and that’s that.”
Goodie, her feathers flustered, shoved her finger up to Pollux’s face and shouted “You’re not the boss of me!”
“No I’m not,” Pollux said. “But your brother needs someone to look after him, and I think that someone should be you.” Goodie wilted and refused to look at Pollux as the sense of his words sunk in.
Pollux loaded the last box in the back of the wagon and then lifted Goodie into the back, next to Armie, who just lay there quietly and unconscious. Pollux reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a piece of paper and shoved it to Goodie. “Here,” he said.
Goodie accepted it gingerly and quietly asked, “What is it?”
“Everything we couldn’t load on the wagons, Cas and I hid in a cave,” Pollux said. “That’s the map to the cave. The way we see it, everything here belongs to you and Armie.”
“Thank you,” Goodie said gratefully.
“And don’t forget this,” Pollux said as he tossed a small bag into her lap. “It’s all the money we found on everyone. It’s not much, but a little is better than nothing.”
Goodie quickly lifted her skirt and stowed the bag in a hidden pouch that was sewed there for just such a purpose.
Part 30: The Way To Tsuwa’tel’da
The morning sun warmed the slopes of Usaee-Neya Mountain and Awinita’s voice rang in joyous song as she climbed the lushly verdant path that led upwards toward the mountain’s summit. She and Jonas followed their guide, an extraordinary beautiful Tsalagi-looking woman. Awinita silently marveled at how their guide was able to still walk with a Long-hair’s proud strut, even though she was as laden with supplies and belongings as she and Jonas.
The richly green path that led to Tsuwa’tel’da ran up to a dark cave that entered the side of Usaee-Neya very close to its crest. This path was not wide, no more than five feet across, but Awinita noticed that even though the plants grew tall and thick alongside the path, no weeds grew on it and no tree branched across. She also noticed that there were no guards at the caves entrance.
Awinita stopped and breathed in the air from the cave and found it cool and fresh without a hint of damp, mildew moisture. “The passage to Tsuwa’tel’da,” Awinita asked. “Why is it not guarded against the English and the French?”
The guide turned and smiled at Awinita with her fierce, grey eyes and said, “None can enter unless the Nunne’hi guide them, Dancer.”
“So it is safe?”
“Always and forever,” the Nunne’hi answered.
Their guide gently placed her hands on Jonas’s and Awinita’s arms and said, “Follow me to your new home.”
Part 31: The Other Side
Awinita and Jonas followed their guide into the cave and allowed its cool, fresh air to envelope and soothe them. They followed the Nunne’hi woman inside and watched as the light receded behind them with each step. Awinita noticed that floor was sand and smooth, as though it had been swept just this morning, but she made sure to keep her eyes on her guide. As each step led them further into darkness, she noticed that the path’s white sand became more and more visible while the area just outside the path’s width turned into an inky abyss that made each step she took sound tinier and tinier.
“Don’t step off the path,” their guide’s voice called from in front. “It wouldn’t be healthy.”
Awinita hurried to catch up to the beautiful Nunne’hi woman and her heart started crawling up her throat until from behind her she heard, “Better to walk safely, than to run and trip.”
Jonas’s common sense calmed her and Awinita walked slower with the dancer’s gait her grandmother had taught her. Awinita and her brother walked the walk sand path, forever straight. Each time she slowed, the unseen Nunne’hi woman would speak words of encouragement from further up the path, gently and sometimes teasingly, encouraging them to continue.
It wasn’t long after the last time the Nunne’hi spoke; when she informed Awinita and Jonas that a three legged tortoise would keep a better pace than them, that Awinita noticed that the darkness had lessened in front of her was a bright light that was hurting her eyes.
As she shielded her eyes with her hands, Awinita called ahead to the Nunne’hi, “What is that light? Is it a lantern? If so, turn it down as it’s hurting my eyes.”
The Nunne’hi’s laughter trilled like a hummingbird’s wings and she ran forward and grabbed both Jonas and Awinita and pulled them reluctantly into the light. To Awinita’s consternation, it was sunlight pouring into the cave’s exit. The Nunne’hi covered Awinita’s and Jonas’s eyes with her small hands and said, “Give your eyes some time to adjust.”
As her eyes adjusted and this land slowly came into focus, Awinita immediately noticed a difference. The air here was clearer and cleaner and each breath tasted like honey upon her tongue. She grabbed her brother’s hand and looked down the mountain to a bustling city that had not been there when they entered the cave.
Awinita turned to her guide and respectfully bowed her head. “Revered guide, is Tsuwa’tel’da in the Spirit-World?” she asked.
“You are a bright one, Dancer,” the Nunne’hi said with admiration. “Tsuwa’tel’da is very close to the Spirit-World, so magic here is stronger and plants and creatures that find it hard to exist in your world flourish and grow strong here. If you take a deep breath you can actually taste the magic on your tongue and feel it on your skin. To us Nunne’hi, this is the real world. To us, your world is the dream.”
“Thank you for bringing me here,” Awinita said and bobbed her head, causing her silver beads to clink and ring like little bells.
The Nunne’hi smiled and said, “Don’t thank me yet, little one. We have to find your teacher and start your training. You may end up cursing me for bringing you here.”
The Nunne’hi then turned to Jonas and said, “We’ve also found you a teacher, Jonas.”
Jonas stood and stared stoically and answered emotionlessly, “I don’t require a teacher.”
The Nunne’hi laughed again and motioned for them to take the path to the city of Tsuwa’tel’da.
Part 32: “Takes-A-Beating”
The exhausted boys lay on their cots in the lodge that was their prison and waited for the sun to come up and their work-day to start. It was twenty-two days since their betrayal and Wallace had already made three escape attempts. After each attempt the men who served as their jailers beat Wallace longer and more viciously. To the boys’ stunned amazement, their Muscogee captors had renamed Wallace and called him “Takes-A-Beating”. They admired his stubbornness and ability to withstand their punishment without crying out or asking for quarter, but their admiration didn’t stop them from beating him when he ran off and was soon re-captured.
The blanket that served as a door was pushed aside and the guard that would joke with them motioned for them to get up. He waited for John Franklin, Torquay, Sidmouth, and Wallace at the door and handed them a bowl of cooked squash, corn, and some meat chunks that tasted like squirrel. This guard allowed them to eat and drink before collecting the bowls and walking with them to the corn and squash fields where the boys would pull weeds and crush beetles and caterpillars.
John Franklin stood up and stretched his back as Torduay and Sidmouth continued to yank thistles and wild grass away from the bean and corn plants. He sighed as Wallace stumbled from chore to chore. He’d escaped again three days ago and the Muscogee had beaten him for hours.
Sidmouth glanced to the southeast and noticed that the air was very clear today. In the distance he saw a strange, eerie upside-down blue pyramid-shaped cloud that was very dark with an angry blue-black hue. “What is that?” he asked and pointed. “It is almost the same color as Wallace’s bruises.”
John Franklin looked in the direction that Sidmouth pointed and muttered “May you uncle’s never claim you.”
“What is it John Franklin?” Torquay asked.
“That dark cloud means we are very close to Nodoroc,” he answered. “It’s an evil place where monsters live. We need to start thinking about how to escape.”
Sidmouth stared at the dark cloud and asked in a frightened voice, “Why, John Franklin?”
John Franklin looked around at all the men that were visible in the Muscogee village and said, “Because my grandfather told me that when the dark cloud over Nodoroc becomes dark as a crow’s feathers, the Muscogee will become nervous and afraid, and then they will sacrifice criminals or prisoners to appease the monsters of Nodoroc.”
John Franklin studied the dark cloud and said, “It looks to be almost that dark now and we’re the only prisoners here.”
He then looked at Wallace as he stumbled to the next corn stalk.
Part 33: Fate, Determined
Over the next three days Nodoroc’s blue funnel cloud grew larger and darker and the villager’s stopped talking and laughing. They no longer joked with or smiled at the boys. The older women who would laugh and tousle Sidmouth’s hair when he’d call them Grandmother would now just stare at him with their hard brown eyes. Their guards were doubled and Wallace was now restrained at night. After three days of hard work hauling logs for a new lodge, the boys were brought before the medicine man and the chief.
The boys, except for Wallace, knelt respectfully in front of the villages elders. Wallace lay on his stomach after having his feet kicked out from underneath him for refusing to kneel.
“Tomorrow, you will be bathed and then you will be marched to Nodoroc,” the medicine man said.
John Franklin looked up and asked, “What happens then?”
“The Wog will choose,” the medicine man answered.
“Will we die,” Sidmouth asked.
“Everyone dies,” the chief said. “Some die brave, some die cowards.”
Part 34: The Lake of Mud
Early the next morning in the Muscogee village of Snodon, a couple of hours before the sun came up, several of the older women of the village pushed aside the blanket that served as a door and woke the boys up. One of the English speaking guards came in carrying a rope and said, “You will take your clothes off and follow these women to the river. If you run or try to escape, you will be shot.”
John Franklin rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he stood up and started undressing. “Why are we going to the river so early?” he asked.
The guard looped the rope around the neck of the now naked John Franklin, and quickly attached the other boys to the same rope as the women gathered all their clothes and left the lodge.
The guard tugged on the rope before saying, “You’re going to bathe and get clean.” He led the boys out of the lodge and down the path to the river where the boys found several armed guards waiting and about ten women, armed with soap and brushes.
The water was chilly and the boys’ teeth and limbs shook with the cold as enough rope was let out to let them get waist deep. The women went in the water after them and proceeded to thoroughly soap and scrub the boys, until all the dirt and grime that had caked on and sunk in from all the farm work was scrubbed off and washed away. During the entire process, nothing was said, not even by Wallace, who argued with the Muscogee about everything.
After their bath, the boys were led out of the water to a bonfire, where they were allowed to stand and dry off in its heat. Four of the grandmotherly women came forward with long white linen cloths and wrapped them around the boys’ waists and groins, turning them into loin cloths.
The Muscogee chief and medicine man then stepped forward and motioned for the boys to come forward. “Nodoroc is angry,” he said. “Today when the sun starts to rise we will leave and go to Nodoroc.” He looked at each of the shivering young men and said, “And one or all of you will be chosen. Decide how you will face death, with courage or with fear gripping your heart and liver.”
The medicine man then stepped forward and draped a medicine bag over each boy’s’ neck as he chanted and asked the spirits of Nodoroc to choose the one or ones that pleased them. When he finished with Wallace, the last of the boys, the sun was peeking over the trees to the east. The chief wave his hand and eight Muscogee warriors, the Honora, dressed in white linen lined up beside the boys and marched them south. The Honora were chosen by lottery and their somber duties were to make sure that the chosen prisoners of Nodoroc was fed to the spirits. John Franklin looked behind him and saw that the entire village was following them, every man, women, and child walking quietly and somber.
They walked for five hours, stopping only long enough to rest and drink some water before continuing south on the dirt road. As they walked, the purplish blue cloud that hung over Nodoroc grew bigger and the air grew damper and heavier. A marshy, sulfurous odor tainted the air and the road stopped at a dank, muddy field. Logs were laid lengthwise that led out into the field, and the boys were led there by their Guards. In the middle of the field lay a lake of boiling, blue mud that plopped and fitzed continuously while blue flames burned and raced across its surface. The smoke from the flames drifted upwards in slow heavy fumes and formed the eternal funnel cloud that hung over this noisome, evil place.
The boys were forced out to a stone landing that sat in the middle of the mud lake known as Nodoroc, and the fumes and toxic smoke burnt their lungs and eyes and each coughed long and deep, like an old man that was dying from too much tobacco. The Honora grabbed the boys’ arms and forced them to kneel facing the lake. From way behind them at the edge of the lake, John Franklin saw where the villagers waited, silently.
The Muscogee medicine man sat cross-legged on the landing and accepted a bag that one of the Honora had carried. From inside it, he took out a smudge bundle and began chanting and singing. As he sang, he rose and approached the lake and lit the bundle of herbs from the blue flames burning on top of the mud. As he chanted in Muscogee and waved the smoking bundle in the air toward the lake, John Franklin kept hearing the words, Nodoroc and Wog, over and over.
The medicine man did this over each boy, fanning the smoke around and over each boys’ body and face, and when he’d finished with the last, Wallace, he quenched the smudge bundle in the plopping mud of Nodoroc. To John Franklin’s horror, out from the mud that rose and fell with each slow bubble of sulfurous gas that crested and erupted from its surface, there rose a howling.
Part 35: Sacrifice, The Choice
As the first howl echoed away, the medicine man quickly started chanting again. With his smudge bundle, he drew an eldritch symbol on each of the prisoners’ chests. The crudely drawn symbol resembled a crescent moon that had flames burning from each end, five on one side and three on the other. The medicine man then quickly re-lit the bundle from Nodoroc’s blue flames and then took a stance behind them, using them as a shield from the thing that howled from the mud.
He took his smoking smudge-bundled and weaved it around and over the boys, chanting so low that his words were just a deep droning that they could not understand. From the lake of boiling, burning blue mud, the howling intensified and the villagers lining the lake turned their backs to it and cried out in fear. Of all the Muscogee standing there, only the medicine man and the Honora refused to back away. From the center of the lake, the boys watched in wide-eyed fear as a gigantic wolf forced itself out from the mud and stood easily upon the splattering surface of Nodoroc. It turned its huge, fang-filled maw and glared with intelligent eyes toward the landing.
With a howl and a roar it loped toward the landing and stood before the sacrifices. It was huge, large as a pony and its stench made the boys’ stomachs clenched in revulsion. John Franklin was grateful that they had been denied breakfast that morning.
The monster opened its maw and extended a black, supple tongue that was forked like a snakes and used it to taste each boy. Only Wallace knelt there without flinching, as he looked the monster in its eyes and cursed it.
The beast went from each boy and sniffed and licked until it stopped in front of Torquay and howled hungrily over and over and over. To John Franklin’s surprise and the Honora’s, Sidmouth jumped to his feet and tried to kick the monster with his bare feet, but the Honora quickly recovered and grabbed him and forced him back to his knees.
Part 36: Sacrifice, Completed
Torquay, chosen of the monstrous Wog, was grabbed by the six of the Honora and heaved into the roiling mud. He screamed once when his young body slammed into Nodoroc’s flames, but it was quickly cut off as the Wog leapt after him dragged him under the blue mud’s surface.
The boys’ were lifted to their feet, stunned by Torquay’s quick death and at its sudden finality.
The medicine man turned to the villagers and shouted at them, “The Wog has chosen, let us leave!”
The Honora, not unkindly this time walked the stunned and shocked boys back toward the village of Snodon, back to their captivity.
John Franklin stumbled next to the sobbing Sidmouth and whispered close to his ear, “Never forget what just happened.”
Part 37: Goodie Says No
The smell of the oxen pulling the wagon was now barely noticed by Goodie as she sat in the back and did her best to comfort Armie. Each dip and hole jarred the wagon as the wooden wheels jammed and shook the long bed and caused her brother to grunt in agony, and each grunt grew weaker and weaker. Armie’s face was pale and the knife wound in his gut stunk of dead flesh and was hot to her touch.
“Can’t you miss the damned potholes!” Goodie screamed up to Castor. “You’re killing him back here!”
Castor pulled back on the reins, slowing the oxen down even more. “I’m sorry, Goodie,” Castor apologized. “But the road is rough and no matter where I drive, it’s going to be rough.”
“Stop the wagon,” Goodie ordered. Castor obediently complied with the younger girl’s request. “Avarice, fly ahead and get Pollux, we’ve got to do something now for Armie.”
The crow jumped and flapped out of the wagon, heading to the one that was pulling farther and farther ahead.
Pollux ran back to Goodie’s and Castor’s wagon after tying the other wagon to a stout oak close to the road. He found Castor helping Goodie wash and clean Armie’s wound. The stench from it was thick and rancid, one of the worse smells he’d ever endured. He wasn’t sure how Goodie and Castor stood it.
“Where’s your wolf?” Pollux asked as he climbed aboard.
“Out scouting,” Castor answered as he held the weakened Armie, who tried to push Goodie away as she washed him.
Goodie looked up at Pollux and said, “If we don’t do something soon, Armie’s going to die. Mama said when a wound smells like this, gangrene has set up and the person who has it, doesn’t have much time.”
Pollux shook his head and said as kindly as he could, “Goodie, me and Castor, we’re not healers. Only thing I know to do is keep moving until we get to one of the Cherokee’s Lower Towns.”
Goodie rinsed the rag in a chipped ceramic bowl that Castor had found for her and tried to touch and massage more of the pus out of the wound, but it was red and proud and oozed a greenish, odorous discharge pus that was streaked with pink, and Armie fought her as her hands lightly touched it.
“How close are we?” Goodie asked, her fear for her brother riding heavy in her throat.
“I don’t know,” Pollux said. “We could be close or we could be days away.”
“What do we do?” she asked.
“Send the crow ahead,” Castor said as he continued to hold Armie down.
“I’m stupid,” Pollux cursed. “He can fly and talk. He can even bring help here.”
“He has too,” Goodie said as she held out her hand for the fat crow to land on. “Armie can’t travel any farther.” She held the bird close to her eyes and said, “You’ve got to fly ahead and bring a medicine man or woman back here. Tell them to hurry.”
Avarice bobbed his head and said, “On my way,” and flew off.
Pollux rose up and said, “I’ll bring the other wagon back here while we wait.”
After Pollux left the wagon, tears appeared on Goodie’s cheeks and ran down her face, cutting through the dust and dirt that had accumulated as they had driven along the dirt road. Castor helped her make Armie’s pallet a little more comfortable as they sat and waited for the bird to get back with whatever help he could bring.
“Will Avarice find anyone in time?” Goodie asked quietly.
“I hope he does,” Castor replied with his quiet voice.
The sun was beginning to set and Castor was in the wagon lighting a lamp for Goodie’s and Armie’s warmth, when a heavy flapping broke the quiet and Avarice dropped into the wagon and began squawking, “They’re on their way! Their on the way! Their on their way!”
“Who?” Goodie cried out.
“Medicine woman,” Avarice said has he hopped and jumped around her.
“I hear a horse!” Pollux yelled from outside. Just seconds later, a tall Cherokee woman climbed over the side of the wagon and dropped a satchel in front of her.
“I’m Sagawee,” she said as she approached Armie and Goodie. “And you must be Goodie, the owner of that crow.”
“Yes,” Goodie said as she looked with relief and hope at the young woman. “Can you help my brother?”
Sagawee lift the cloth that Goodie had placed over Armie’s wound and grimaced at the smell and sight. “I’ll do my best,” she said.
“You two,” she said to Castor and Pollux. “Get these wagons and my horse moving north. My village is about three hours north, but as slow as you’re going to have to drive, we should be there by morning.”
Sagawee opened her satchel and started taking out vials and linen wrapped packages. She turned to Armie and said, “I need fresh water.”
Armie grabbed a tin bucket and jumped out of the wagon and ran to the river, the darkness ignored.
Goodie sat in Sagawee’s lodge in the Lower Cherokee Town of Chagee, the first town in the trade route north. Castor and his wolf sat beside her and Avarice as they listened to Sagawee explain Armie’s condition.
The young mother sat beside Armie and took her hand before she said, “Flesh rot has set up in his wound.”
“What can you for it?” Castor asked as he scratched his wolf’s ears.
“Not much now,” she replied. “The wound is in his side and has eaten its way to his liver.” She looked at Goodie and said, “There is a very good chance your brother may die.”
“NO!” Goodie cried as she jerked her hands away from Sagawee. “No! You will heal him with Avarice’s help.”
“I can’t,” she answered quietly. “Even though Avarice is a powerful animus, he’s not mine. I cannot use the magic he possesses, only his owner can do that.”
Goodie turned to Castor and said, “Then you and your wolf have to heal him.”
Surprised, Castor glanced at the worried young girl and said, “I can’t, Goodie. I don’t know how. Me and wolf, we’re on our way to Tsuwa’tel’da to learn how to use our bond.”
Goodie turned from Sagawee and Castor and cried into her hands.
Part 38: Ayitah
Pollux stood next to the medicine woman’s lodge and stood guard over the wagons and oxen. He was not afraid of sword, axe, or arrow, but sickness and diseade turned his bowels to water. He couldn’t say anything to Goodie, as it was her brother that was ill, but when Castor had volunteered to go inside with her, he gratefully accepted the post of guard, even though here in this village, there probably was no need.
As he leaned against the corner of wooden walls of the lodge, he watched all the pretty young women strut by. Each would look him in the eye and smile and walk on by as they went about their daily tasks. Since he was a friendly and polite young man, it was required that he be courteous and smile back. He’d noticed that one pretty girl with really dark eyes had walked past him several times already and he looked out of the corner of his eyes and waited on her to walk past him again.
“Why are you here?” a voice said from behind him.
It was her! She had snuck around the building and come up from his blind side! “I’ve got a sick friend inside,” Pollux said as he spun around to face the girl.
“How long will you be here,” she asked brusquely used her hand to flip her long black hair away from her eyes.
“Until he’s healed,” Pollux answered and quickly added. “I’m Pollux.”
The girl finally smiled and replied, “And I’m Ayitah.”
Part 39: Intersection
Pollux stood next to the wagons and talked easily with the dark haired Ayitah, oblivious to the glares and hateful glances being thrown Ayitah’s way by all the other young women of the village.
“So, are you going to stand guard here all day protecting your wagons from all the dangerous thieves of Town Chagee?” Ayitah asked as she stood with her arms crossed, but with a smile playing at her lips.
“Yes,” Pollux answered. “I’ve watch several suspicious characters stroll past my wagons.”
“Suspicious?” Ayitah asked, her voice hardening a little.
“And dangerous,” Pollux added. “It’s my belief such people deserved to be watched.”
“And are you watching them?” Ayitah asked as she raised one eyebrow.
Too himself, Pollux thought, “That’s a good trick, I wonder how long it took her to learn it?” But out loud he said, “With both eyes.”
Ayitah laughed heartily and said, “If the village’s men were here, those eyes might get poked with a fist or two.”
“It’d be worth it,” Pollux answered. Then he said, “Where are the men? I’ve only seen very young boys and old uncles.”
Ayitah stepped a little closer, a clear indication that she like the looks of this tall, dark haired young man. “They may be hunting,” she said.
“Are they?” he asked as he shifted his back against the lodges wooden walls.
“No,” she said. Pollux waited silently and hoped it would prompt her to speak.
“They could be trading,” Ayitah said quickly to fill the silence.
“Are they?” Pollux asked
“No,” she answered.
Another girl stormed up and hissed, “Oh quit playing this stupid game, Ayitah!” She turned to Pollux and said, “All the men have gone to war against the Muscogee. The chief’s received word that his grandson is being held prisoner at Nodoroc.”
Part 40: Another Upon A Time
Goodie sat next to Armie in Sagawee’s lodge, as he twisted and moaned upon his cot, his wound feverish and smelling of rot. Goodie tried to hold his hand, but even that slight touch racked Armie’s body with pain. With tears on her cheeks, she turned to Avarice and said, “Tell me a story.”
“Can’t, too far, too far,” he said as he hopped and flapped his wings, his sharp black beak clacking in frustration.
“Too far?” Castor asked. “What does he mean?”
“He’s too far from momma,” Goodie replied, her voice bleak. “I am so alone.”
Castor’s wolf left his side and went and laid her head in Goodie’s lap and Castor began speaking, “Once upon a time there was a pretty girl who met twin brothers, one tall, dark-haired and handsome and the other one small and blonde who had a wolf….”
“Please,” Goodie said, her voice low, barely leaving her throat. “Tell me something sad.”
Castor paused for a moment before he started again. “This is the story of why bears have brown eyes. Many years ago, when animals and people lived side by side and man still had the gift of speech with all animals, many of the bears had blue eyes. And the ones that did were smarter and more gifted than the others.”
“How?” Goodie asked.
“Their medicine was stronger and they had the gift of shape-changing. The blue eyed bears could take the form of man when they wanted. Well, Father Bear of the blue eyes lived alone up in the mountains, but all the other animals and people would come to him for advice and medicine. He knew the herbs and plants that could cure a baby’s thrush and an old person’s blood cough. When evil witches would steal into a village, Father Bear would roar down a chase them off. Everyone liked and respected Father Bear, but he grew older and lonely, for he was the last of the blue eyed bears and he had no mate.”
“That’s so sad,” Goodie said as she listened to the story. “Sad! Sad!” Avarice cawed his agreement.
“Yes it was sad,” Castor said as he continued. “Father Bear continued to grow older and more lonely, but he never forgot his love of people and the other animals. Whenever they needed him, he was there to protect and heal them. On one warm autumn day, Father Bear found himself sitting on the bank of the river Soque and thinking about plopping into the water and slapping out a couple of fat trout for his supper, when a sound caught his attention. A woman’s voice was singing and he sat up to see who it was. To his amazement, he saw a beautiful Tsalagi woman walk down to the river and began laying clothes on the rocks to wash them. Startled, he just stood there in bear form and watched her. She was no longer young, but her black eyes shown with laughter and the lines in her face were from laughing, not frowning or crying. Puzzled, Father Bear also noticed that even though the song she sang was one of loneliness her mouth seemed to smile with a secret knowledge.“Where are my children, Ice Man? My womb is empty.
Curious, Father Bear changed into his human form and found himself naked. Now as a talking animal, nakedness is natural, but as a man, he remembered shame and so he hid behind a hemlock that stood along the bank. He called out to the singing woman and said, “Why do you sing such a sad song, woman.”
The woman looked up and said, “I sing to recognize that sadness exists. If you deny that sadness even exists, it will claim you.” She then picked up a rock and began beating the clothes. Father Bear, still hiding behind the tree, said, “But isn’t it better to deny sadness and than it is to wallow in grief?” The woman smiled and said, “Such a question should be discussed in the evening in a lodge after eating.” Then she looked up and shouted, “But I will not invite any man into my lodge who hides behind a tree and refuses to show himself.”
Father Bear, now very ashamed of his nakedness, said, “I cannot show myself, for I am naked.”
“Foolish man,” the pretty woman said, “Where did you lose your clothes?”
“I didn’t” Father Bear answered her. “I’ve never had clothes before.”
“You grew up naked?” she asked. “How?”
“Don’t we all?” Father Bear answered.
“No!” the woman shouted with laughter. “How did you?”
“I grew up as a bear,” Father Bear answered. The pretty woman stopped beating the clothes and sat up and looked at the hemlock where Father Bear hid. “If you are really Father Bear, you’ll have blue eyes.”
Father Bear yelled back, “Yes, they are blue.” The woman smiled her little smile and said, “Then step out and let me see.”
Father Bear looked around and saw no one but them, so he made a quick decision and stepped out from behind the hemlock. The woman stared at his naked body for a long time, and Father Bear became nervous as she said nothing.
“My eyes are up here,” Father Bear said pointedly. The pretty woman smiled her little smile again and looked up and said, “So your eyes are blue. Are you lonely, Bear?”
Bear looked at her and found thoughts in his heart that he hadn’t realized were there. There were no other blue eyed bears, but there was this pretty woman who seemed interested in him in his man form. “Yes,” he simply said.
The woman picked the clothes up and hung them on a tree branch to dry. “So am I, Bear. My children have died from the red cough. My husband died fighting the Muscogee. My village has too many women and not enough men, so I am outcast. If you will stay a man, I will become your wife. Two who need each other are never lonely.”
Bear thought for a minute and said, “Did you know I’d be here?” The pretty woman shook her head yes. “Crow told me what I’d need to do to meet you. She said you were the last of your kind and that I might be able to be happy with you.”
Bear shook his head and said, “Crow never just gives such information and help. She always demands a price.”
The pretty woman walked up to Father Bear, bringing the wet clothes with her. “And I will pay it.”
Father Bear accepted the clothes and said, “What is your name, wife.”
She leaned forward and gently kissed Father Bear and said, “It is Doli, my blue eyed husband.”
Goodie squirmed in her seat causing the wolf’s head to bounce and she finally blurted out, “I thought I said I wanted it to be sad.”
“The story’s not done,” Castor said.
“Beware Crow!” Avarice called. “She’s tricky!”
Castor stood up and stretched as he walked to the fireplace. “Let me bank the fire so Armie will stay warm,” he said as he used an iron poker and a stick of hickory wood to maneuver the pieces of wood around so that fresh places were exposed to the heat and flame. There was a well-made wooden table in the room, indicating just how wealthy Sagawee was, and on the table was a pitcher of water and a couple of cups. Castor poured some water for both Goodie and Armie and waited as Goodie coaxed Armie to take a few sips.
“I think he’s getting better,” Goodie said as she brushed Armie’s sweat damped hair with her fingers. Avarice sat on her shoulder and hid his beak and head in her long hair and said nothing.
Castor’s wolf sniffed at Armie and softly walked over to the door and sat in front of it, his snout draped over his paws. “I think you’re right,” Castor said knowing the lie was better than the truth at this time.
Castor waited until Goodie had regained her seat next to Armie’s cot, before he said, “Are you ready for the rest of the story?”
“Yes,” she said immediately.
“And she wants it sad,” Avarice croaked from her hair.
“Okay,” Castor said as he sat down.
“Father Bear and Doli moved into her village next to the Soque and were happy for many years. Father Bear stayed in his human form and took the name Yonah and proved to be a good medicine man for the village and Doli and Yonah and the village on the Soque prospered and grew. Doli and Yonah of the blue eyes were happy, except that, they had no children. Although Doli would tell Yonah how happy she was, he would hear her cry softly at night, when she believed her husband was asleep. Yonah’s heart would ache with the inability to cure Doli’s pain. He could cure the red cough and a baby’s thrush and he could pull fire from a burn and stop a bleeding cut with his words of medicine, but he could not cure his wife’s barren womb.
“Yonah would make special pottery for his wife, as he was the only one that could make the blue glaze that was prized by all the other villages up and down the Soque, but while she’d take the pot or cup or dish and praise its beauty and how lucky she was to have such a talented husband, her eyes would look out to the Appalachians and Yonah knew she was thinking of the children she’d lost.
“Doli took to wandering alone away from the village and Yonah became more and more worried about his wife’d health and spirit. He was afraid that she her soul would walk away to find her dead children and that her body, incapable of following would die.
“Yonah began neglecting his duties as medicine man to be with his beloved Doli. If she trip, Yonah was quickly there, unwilling for her to be harmed. But even the most loving husband must sleep, and so every night, just two hours before dawn, he would close his blues eyes to get the scant rest that he needed. That was when it happened.”
“What happened?” Goodie asked.
“Yonah woke and Doli was gone,” Castor said. “She was not next to him as she had always been and his heart jumped and struck his chest, making black spots appear before his eyes. He jumped up and began searching for her and calling her name. His neighbors quickly rushed to his aid and once they learned what had happened helped him in his search, but there was no trace of Doli. It was as though she had turned to mist and evaporated with the morning sun. Days ran one after the other and the villagers reluctantly had to stop looking for Doli. But Yonah would not give up, even after days had gone by, he still searched in both his man form during the day and as a bear at night. He searched for seven weeks, barely sleeping. He crossed the rivers and mountains and visited every village that was close by or far away, but his precious, beloved Doli was no where, and with a broken heart he made his way home, to say good-bye to his friends at the village.
“Many weeks had past and Yonah had finally crossed the great distances to come home and as he walked up the trail that was married to the Soque, as he stepped nearer and nearer to his lonely lodge, he heard a woman singing.“My husband is a bear, he is gone! Oh where? Oh where?
Yonah heart leaped again, but this time with joy and his feet raced to the singing and his eyes found his Doli, laughing and happy once again. He grabbed her up and squeezed her hard and tight and refused to put her down. The scent of her hair in his nose finally allowed the tightness in his chest to relax and he carried her to their lodge, their home.
“Where was she?” Goodie asked and Avarice cawed, “Let him talk! Let him talk!”
Castor smiled as he continued the story. “That was the very thing Yonah asked and Doli this is what Doli told him.
“She had grown more and more depressed and sad over time as she knew that she wouldn’t be able to give Yonah any sons or daughters and the briar that poked her heart the most, was that it was her own fault. Yonah asked how that could be and Doli told him. After her family had died, she had wanted to die and had prepared her funeral bed. Fortunately for her, an old wise woman from her original village had come in and kicked her out of that bed and told her that she was wasting good child bearing hips and that she needed to find a new husband. She asked how and the old woman told her to go and find the original Crow.
“Doli was confused and asked how she could do that, since the original Crow lived in Tsuwa’tel’da and she knew of no way to cross that boundary. The old woman grinned and handed her an ebon black feather and told her to burn it if she wanted to contact the Crow. Doli reluctantly took the feather and to spite the old woman threw it into her fireplace.
“To Doli’s surprise, as the feather burned, the smoke rose and floated about the room, as though it was searching every corner. After it had finished its inspection, the smoke floated back in front of Doli and coalesced into the form of a woman, one with hair as dark as a crow’s wings and with black eyes that glinted with intelligence and cunning.
“Who has summoned Crow,” the woman asked and the old wise woman grabbed Doli’s arm and thrust her forward and shout that Doli had.
“What is it you want?” Crow asked.
“She wants a husband to replace the one who died,” the old woman answered.
“I can talk for myself,” Doli finally said as she found her voice. “I want nothing from you, I burned your feather in spite, to show the old woman that her medicine was false.”
“But still you summoned me,” Crow said. “And if you have a wish, I can make it true, if you are willing to pay the price.”
Doli looked at the Crow and her heart was heavy with fear. She was an ancient spirit, wise and strong, but she was also known to be greedy and tricky. So she decided on the wisest course she knew. “I have no wish, other than to die,” Doli said.
The Crow laughed and said, “That I can grant at no cost, but maybe I can show you something first.” Crow turned to the old woman and ordered her to fetch and bowl with water from the river, which the old woman did. Crow placed the bowl on the ground and covered it with her long dark hair and sang very quietly into the bowl, so quietly that Doli could not understand a single word. After she finished singing, she sat up straight and motioned for Doli to look into it and what she saw made her heart lighter and happy. In the water, she saw Yonah’s human face and then him as a bear. At that moment, she knew she’d be his wife.
“Who is that?” Doli asked.
“It is Father Bear,” Crow answered. “And he is as heart lonely as you, for he is the last of his bear-kind, fully able to be either man or bear. If he were to meet you, Doli, his heart would be yours.”
“What would it cost to meet him,” she asked the Crow.
Crow looked at Doli and turned her head sideways and back before answering. “The costs is steep, Tsalagi woman. Steeper than you may be prepared to pay.”
“Will it make him be my husband,” she asked.
Crow shook her head and her hair fluttered like feathers, “No, human woman. Father Bear is very strong in his medicine and no love potion or totem will work. I will just show you where and how to meet him. You will have to win him over yourself.”
“Then why use you,” Doli demanded.
Crow smiled and her white teeth shone, “Because without my knowledge and magic, you’ll never be close enough to ever see him.”
Doli thought and the image of Father Bear, soon to be known as Yonah, flashed from man to bear, over and over again in the bowl, and his blue eyes captured her heart. “Your magic will put me in the right place at the right time and you’ll guide me in what I need to know?”
“Yes,” Crow said.
“And if I don’t win his heart, I owe nothing?” Doli asked.
“Yes,” Crow said.
“What is the cost?” Doli asked.
“Your ability to have any more children,” Crow said.
Doli thought to herself before answering. Her children are dead and she is no longer young. She may never have anymore children anyway, so it’s a price that is easily paid. Besides, Father Bear may not want children anyway.
“Done,” Doli said and spit into her hand.
“She gave up being able to be a mother?” Goodie said, unable to allow the story to continue.
Castor shrugged and motioned for Wolf to go over and lay her head in Goodie’s lap. “It’s what the old story said,” Castor said as he stood up and checked on Armie. “I think his breathing is easier,” Castor said before sitting down again.
“I think he likes hearing the story,” Goodie said as she rubbed Wolf’s ears. Avarice hopped onto the table and shouted. “More story! More story!”
Castor looked around and saw that everyone was paying attention and continued.
‘When Yonah had learned of his wife’s pact with Crow and what she paid to meet him, he became very concerned. He took his beloved wife into his arms and softly said, “Your sadness, was it because you learned that you wanted children after all?”
Doli nodded her head and told Yonah, “You are the last of the shape-shifting bears. After you die, there will be no more.”
“I am content with you,” he told her, but she interrupted angrily, “But I am not. You deserve children who can continue your line. My heart hurt and ached when I understood what I gave up to Crow. She knew and I wanted it back.”
Doli pushed her husband away and stared straight into his deep-water blue eyes and said, “I finally decided to go and find Crow. I will not tell you how long I searched and the bad monsters and good spirits I encountered, but there were many and terrible. But I did not give up and I finally found her Aerie way out to the west close to the great river that runs from north to south. I found her and we bargained.”
Yonah growled deep in his throat and said, “Woman, a bargain with Crow is never fully understood until after the sun sets.”
Doli stood with her arms crossed glared defiantly at her husband. “The bargain is done, husband, and I’ve already paid the price. It cannot be taken back, and I don’t want it back.”
“Will you tell me what the price was?” Yonah asked.
“No,” Doli answered. “But we will now be able to make sons and daughters to carry on the legacy of the blue-eyed bears.”
“Over the next twenty years, Doli and Yonah had three beautiful, brave, and curious sons. All had their mother’s dark hair and their father’s blue eyes and three sons were shape-shifters and spent as much time being little boys as they did bear cubs, looking for and finding mischief in both forms. The oldest child’s name was Otter from the way he loved to play in the water of the river. The second was named Snakeskin, because he once found a skin left behind by a rattlesnake and wore it as a head-band. To his mother’s disgust he wore that ratty rattlesnake skin as headband for weeks until his father went out and slew one and used that skin to make a lasting headband. The last was called Fluffy.
“Fluffy?” Goodie interrupted with disbelief. “They called him Fluffy? I don’t believe it.”
“I’m glad you’re paying attention,” Castor said. “His real name was Me Too, because that was what he always said when his brothers asked if the could do or have anything.”
“Are you sure it was Me Too?” Goodie asked with her eyes glaring at Castor.
“Ask your bird,” Castor said.
“Child name was Me Too,” Avarice called from the table.
“Alright, continue with the story,” Goodie said slightly mollified.
“As Doli and Yonah grew older, they also grew more and more content with each other, and their lives. Doli would weave blouses of the purest white from the linen they would trade for with the northern tribes and Yonah became a potter of great renown. His pottery with its distinctive blue glaze was prized by all the Tribes of the Cherokee and even the hated Muscogee would send traders to his lodge.
“Doli and Yonah watched their sons grow big and strong, in both body and their ability to do bear magic. They also grew wiser and more considerate of each other and their aging parents. Otter was well on his way to becoming an accomplished trader and explorer, as he knew the rivers and villages along it very well. Snakeskin was studying and learning all he could from the villages medicine men and women and his ability to help his neighbors in peace and war with his medicine was already be called upon. Me Too had left behind his tag-along ways and had taken to learning the craft of clay and fire from his father. To Yonah’s gratification, Me Too quickly learned the secret of the blue glaze and was able to throw pots and pitchers of a thinness that almost let light pass through it. All three sons were well respected and Yonah and Doli knew it would only be a matter of time before their sons would wed and give them grandchildren.
“But that all changed on the first day of spring.”
“How!” Avarice cawed. Goodie glared at the big bird and shook her finger at him and sternly said to it, “Quit interrupting, Avarice, I want to here the story.”
Avarice clacked his beak shut, but didn’t look sorry, as he leaned forward and poked Castor with his beak, urging him to continue.
“Doli learned she was pregnant,” Castor said. “She knew the signs and quickly went to Yonah and told him the news. Yonah was very concerned, since Doli was now old enough to be a grandmother and even had the grey hair to prove it. But she was ecstatic with the possibility of a new child. She quickly went to the wise woman in the village who had the gift of divining the sex of an unborn child.
“How’d she do that?” Goodie asked.
“The old woman knew the correct song and would sing it to the child inside the womb. After the song was sung three times, she made Doli drink a potion made of a crushed blue bird’s nest and ground up lizard skin. Then she would capture her first water of the morning in a vase drop the dried petals of a dogwood into it. If the petals turned blue, she’d have a boy. If they turned yellowish-orange, she’d have a girl. The last three times, the petals had turned blue.
“That next morning as the sun rose, Doli captured her water in a wide-mouth basin and dropped the dried dogwood petals into it. She smiled happily as she watched and waited for the petals to turn their expected bright blue and her smile was still pasted on her face as she watched them glow yellowish-orange in the first light of the sun. Tears drifted down her cheeks and over her smile as she realized that she was pregnant with her first and only daughter.
Goodie raised her hand and this time politely interrupted Castor and asked, “Why was she crying? Was it because she was happy?”
“It tells you in the story,” Castor said.
Doli gently caressed her belly and said to her unborn daughter, “We will name you Wren, as you are the gentle little bird that has flown into my womb.” Doli then walked to her Yonah’s pottery shed, as his morning started before the sun even rose.
“Husband, Doli called to him. Come and say hello to your daughter, Wren. Yonah rushed to his beloved Doli and picked her up and swung her around and laughed with great joy and called his sons to him to share the great news. They would have a little sister.
“For the next seven months Doli and Yonah were happy as they made a new bed for the baby and all the clothes she would need. Their neighbors and sons brought little gifts and toys for the soon to be born little girl and signing and laughing was heard throughout the river valley they called home.
“Spring had come and raced away into Summer and Summer had chased Spring toward the Sun and Autumn had arrived in time to greet Doli’s growing belly. She grunted each morning now as she rose from her bed and would poke Yonah and laugh as she told him she was too old for this and he should help her get up as it was all his fault. Then they would laugh and greet the day.
“Yonah could not remember a happier time as his wife laughed and teased him about his graying hair and called him Grandfather Bear and his sons found many and varied reasons to be underfoot at his home instead of their own. Doli spent every moment she could with Yonah, but the time away from him was spent with the village birth-mother, who was keeping a close eye on mother and soon to be born daughter.
“On the morning Wren was born, snow had fallen and covered the river-bank and trees with the winter’s first snow. To Doli’s delight, it was thick and deep, and all sounds were at first muffled, until she heard the birds land on it and crunch their way across it with each hop looking for some food. Doli rolled over and pushed her way out of bed and made her way to the fire to see if Yonah had started breakfast like he normally did. As she stepped up to the hearth, she felt wetness run down her leg and yelled to Yonah, who was outside working.
“Husband, run and get the birth-mother! My water has broke and your daughter will be here today!”
“Yonah ran and brought the birth-mother to his lodge waited as she and other women of the village came to help with the birth. Yonah and his sons and the other men of the village were banished outside his home, so they spent their time cutting firewood and laughing and joking as one of the maidens would come outside every so often and tell them how Doli was doing. They were told that for one so old, she and baby were doing fine and that soon Yonah would be a father again. True to her word, before the sun set, Wren came forth to greet the day and Yonah was allowed back inside his home to kiss his wife and hold his new daughter.
“Is she beautiful?” Doli asked him. Yonah looked long at his new daughter, at her fine, black hair, her serene green eyes, and quiet nature and laid down with his wife so they could both hold and marvel at their new joy. “She is everything,” Yonah told Doli. “She is everything.”
“Are you happy, husband,” Doli asked.
“Yes,” Yonah said.
“Then go outside and bring in some firewood, since me and my daughter are cold,” Doli told him.
Yonah went outside with a laugh and called to his sons and told them the good news and instructed them to gather firewood as their mother and new sister were cold. As they gathered arm loads of wood to take inside, from the west were the sun was setting, the beating of drumming of wings was heard. From above the treetops, a black cloud of crows rushed the men and attacked them, driving them to the ground with their beaks and wings and vast, vast numbers. Yonah, with fear in his heart watched as the crows bullied their way past the screaming women standing at the door. He quickly changed into a bear and rushed inside, ignoring the wounds and savage stabbings of the birds beaks and broke past them to his and Doli’s bedroom.
On his bed were his wife and child lay, a writhing mass of crows, moved and shuddered, disjointed feathers and beaks and black eyes peering and appearing from the mass. With a savage roar he rushed the mass and stood astonished as the birds quickly flew away, exposing the bed with the only the body of his beloved Doli laying there, her arms clutching the empty swaddling clothes that once held his daughter.
One single crow stood upon the bed and looked at Yonah and said to him, “The debt to my mistress has been claimed and paid.”
Yonah roared and crushed the bird with his paw.
Goodie suddenly grabbed Castor’s arm and said, “Doli’s dead?!”
Avarice hopped with agitation on the table and shouted at Castor also, “You killed Doli?! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!”
Wolf’s angry growls quickly calmed Goodie, as her lupine head was still resting in Goodie’s lap. “Uh, Avarice, please don’t yell so loudly at Castor.” Goodie rubbed Wolf’s ears and head gently, and breathed and finally sighed with relief as her growls finally ceased.
Avarice still hopped with barely controlled anger and clacked his beak at Castor. Goodie looked over at Castor and asked, “Is Doli really dead?”
“It’s in the story,” he said as the fire from the hearth crackled. He stood up and examined Armie and noticed that his breathing had eased somewhat. “Would you like for me to continue?” he asked Goodie.
“Yes, please,” she said.
“Yonah had crushed the Crow Woman’s messenger and he’d cast himself on top of Doli’s lifeless body and wept. It took his sons and the village shaman to remind him of his duties and that Doli’s body would need to be prepared for burial. Since neither Doli nor Yonah had any sisters or aunts, the women of the village accepted the responsibility to wash and cleanse Doli’s body with oil of lavender mixed with mint, because Yonah insisted it was her favorite scent. Doli was buried that day and her funeral was quick and somber, as Yonah had instructed his sons and the villagers that he had to hurry and follow the crows to Tsuwa’tel’da, the land of magic and medicine and spirits, as there was where Crow Woman lived and it was where he’d find his infant daughter.
“Immediately after the burial, Yonah rushed to his home to gather the supplies he’d need for the journey. The village shaman was understanding and told Yonah that he’d perform the cleansing ceremony for him when he returned. Yonah quickly made a pack of his most needed supplies and for the first time in his life attached a war-club to his belt and left his home. As he stepped outside he found his three sons waiting on him; Otter, Snakeskin and Me Too. They stood, armed and ready to go, Otter with his bow and arrows, Snakeskin with his medicine bag and potions and Me Too, standing calmly, leaning on his obsidian bladed spear.
“We’re going with you, father,” Otter told his father. “One man will fail. Four may succeed.”
“Yonah was grateful for his sons help and accepted it without argument. “Your mother is gone, but your baby sister may be alive in Tsuwa’tel’da and we have to get there quickly and rescue her.”
“How do we get there?” Otter asked Yonah and Yonah replied, “There is an entrance to west on the Great River, Chattahoochee, that runs South to the Salt Water Sea. On that river there is a cave that allows entrance to Tsuwa’tel’da. It is the entrance the Spirit-Bear People originally came through to live here in the Green Land of Promise. I know the way there, but it is guarded and I will need your help to defeat the guardian.
“Then let us go,” Snakeskin said. “Otter knows the rivers and the people, I have my knowledge of the songs of our people and Me Too has grown large and strong working with your clay, father. Let’s go get our sister and teach Crow Woman a lesson she’ll dream about forever.
“His heart bursting with pride, Yonah led his sons west to the entrance to Tsuwa’tel’da.
“It took them seven days to travel west to the Chattahoochee and then seven days to travel south along the great river until they found the cave entrance that would lead to Tsuwa’tel’da, but to their dismay they found that the river had changed course and ran directly into the cave mouth and disappeared. The river flowed into the cave and did not reappear anywhere along the old river bed. It was as dry and dusty as the ground on a middle summer day.
“There was nothing to do, but make camp and investigate the cave, so that’s what they did. With Otter’s river knowledge and Me Too’s strength they were able to clamor down to the maelstrom of where the water disappeared with a loud roar and with Snakeskins urging, they considering entering the watery cave, when Yonah, yell and ordered them back.
“Why father,” Otter asked. “If the cave is the way to Tsuwa’tel’da, then we’ll need to think of a way to enter it and exit the other side.”
Yonah pointed to the cave mouth and said, “Sons, do you see the stalactites and stalagmites that line it from front to back?” They looked and told their father that they had and were planning to tie ropes to them to help them in their exploration.
Yonah shook his head and said, “Sons, those are the teeth of a Menan Batore, a river monster of Tsuwa’tel’da. It swallows the river and feeds on the fish and animals that rush down its gullet. We could pass through its stomach and body and enter Tsuwa’tel’da, but it would be as fish excrement, not as living men.”
“What do we do?” Otter asked.
“We go back to our camp and look through Snakeskin’d medicine bag to see if what I hope is there is there,” Yonah answered. “If it is, maybe we can make the Menan Batore seek a happier place to feed.” So Yonah and his sons went back to the camp and to their surprise, they found they’d been robbed. All their food and supplies had been taken. There wasn’t even enough food left to feed a small mouse, much less four fully grown and hungry men.
Otter quickly cast around and found the tracks of their robber and led them on the chase. To his surprise, the tracks disappeared in a stand of maple trees, and Otter was stumped until he remembered a trick he’d encountered before. Once when he was hunting a fox, he watched it climbed a tree and leapt from the tree to a stream, swum the stream and exited on the other side. Because of its cleverness, he’d allowed it to live. There was no stream here, but he did check the ground on the other side and found where the tracks picked back up and followed them to a lodge that was cleverly built into the side of a small hill. The doors and windows were hidden by a large thicket of blackberry bushes. Otter and his father and brothers lay among the grass and trees, hidden, until finally a young woman of bright orange hair and supple body swung aside a portion of the thorny bushes and walked away from the lodge. He nose was long and pointed, but her eyes were bright and intelligent, and Otter knew he was looking at a young Fox Woman. He took out his bow and drew back an arrow and stepped out of his hiding place.
“The young woman gasped in surprise and Otter said, “Hello thief, we’d like our belongings back now.”
“Thief?” the young woman asked as she looked around in surprise and only seeing Otter, she smiled at him, ignoring the bow in his hand and the arrow pointed at her chest. “Isn’t amusing how the robber calls his intended victim a thief,” she said as she stepped closer to Otter, her hips moving in a very interesting way.
Otter glared at her and said, “Stop right there.” She did and put both her hands behind her back, which caused her breast to push forward, drawing his eyes there instead of to her now hidden hands. “I tracked you from my camp and even from where you took to the trees to hide your trail. He lifted his face up and smiled as she and inched several feet closer. “I know who and what you are and I know what you have behind your back, so drop it on the ground.”
She smiled prettily at Otter and told him, “What a smart boy you are, but why should I do that?” And she slowly gathered her hands in front of her, both holding very long bladed knives.
“Because my father and two brothers are here with us,” Otter said and Yonah and Snakeskin and Me Too slowly stood up, holding their weapons. The young Fox Woman dropped her knives and sank to her knees in supplication.
“Kill me if you wish,” she told them. “But those who enter the mouth of the Menan Batore have never returned. It would be a sin to allow your supplies to rot away in the weather unused.”
“But from the tracks at the camp, you robbed us before you even knew we were going to the Menan Batore,” Otter shouted at her.
The young Fox Woman lifted her eyes from the ground and laughed, “Yes, I did, didn’t I.”
Yonah stepped forward and grabbed her by her wrist and the young woman’s eyes widened in alarm. “You’re not human, you’re of Tsuwa’tel’da.”
“Yes,” Yonah told her as he marched her back to her home and their stolen supplies. “And me and my sons need to go there as soon as possible.”
As they entered the Fox Woman lodge, Yonah noted how neat and tidy it was, even though there were various goods and supplies stacked throughout the home. Also to their surprise, the lodge sent further back into the hill than he’d thought. Someone had excavated it and made a huge storeroom, which the girl had taken full use of.
“Where’s our supplies?” he asked.
“Over there,” the Fox Woman replied and pointed. “But there is no way to get the Menan Batore to move. If there was, the people and villages downstream would have forced it away months ago.”
“Have you seen it move?” Yonah asked her.
“Once, about seven days ago,” She answered. “It got up and crawled away from the entrance long enough to allow a swarm of crows to fly through, but then it went back and plugged the hole back up.”
“We’re at the right place,” Yonah said. “Snakeskin, find your medicine bag and see if you have concentrated essence of the acorn.”
“Why, father?” Otter asked him.
“Because father knows what happens when you mix the essence of the acorn with water,” Snakeskin said with a laugh. “The Menan Batore is just a huge fish, isn’t it?” Snakeskin said as he grabbed his bag. “But what if I don’t have enough?”
“I might” the Fox Woman said. “But there will be a cost.”
“And what would you charge us after you tried to rob us?” Otter demanded.
“If you get through and come back, you come back and we talk,” the Fox Woman said as she looked at Otter.
“That’s it?” Otter asked.
“You’re the only one who’s ever been able to track me,” she answered. “I’d like to know you better. What is your name?”
“I’m Otter,” he told her.
“I an Atsila,” she said.
“I didn’t ask,” Otter said brusquely.
“You were going to,” Atsila replied knowingly. She turned to Yonah and asked respectfully, “Why are you and your sons trying to travel to Tsuwa’tel’da, respected Uncle?”
Yonah growled deep within his throat and his blue eyes flashed, “Crow has stolen my daughter and I will have her back.”
Atsila bowed her head when she heard of Crow’s theft and said, “I will help anyway I can, Uncle.”
Yonah looked at all the goods and equipment stacked throughout Atsila’s home and asked her, “Might you have any quantity of essence of acorn?”
Atsila walked over to a crate that was covered by several brightly colored blankets and shoved the top off it and pointed inside it. “You mean like this,” she said with a grin as she waved her slim hand at the many large clay pots inside.
“But if you’re going to succeed, you’ll need a plan and a half-formed plan is likely to fail,” she added. “Let’s go inside to my kitchen and drink some English tea as you and your sons make your plans.” So that is what they did. Yonah and his boys sat and drank tea with Atsila as Yonah explained what they were going to do. They were going to use the essence of acorns to poison the waters that were flowing into the gullet of the Menan Batore.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Goodie said. “Essence of acorns? How does that poison fish?”
“It’s an old Cherokee trick,” Castor explained. “They would take ripe acorns and soak them in water for days and a viscous oil would rise to the top. They’d scoop the oil off the top of the water and use it to poison a stream to kill all the fish for easy collection. Additionally, they’d use that same oil to help tan deer hides. They call that oil, tannin.”
“So that’s where they get tannin,” Goodie said.
“Sometimes,” Castor said. “But let me get back to the story.
“Yonah explained how the Menan Batore was in truth a giant fish that was sitting in the cave that lead to Tsuwa’tel’da and its huge girth was blocking their ability to get to the magic doorway that would give them entrance. If they could sicken Menan Batore with enough tannin poison, it would either die or escape back to Tsuwa’tel’da to recover. Either outcome, they’d have the ability to get to the doorway.
“Otter was not convinced. “Father,” he said, “that is a huge fish and for the poison to work, we’d need to be right there at its mouth, practically pouring the tannin down its throat. The only way I see that happening is standing at the cave mouth and pouring the tannin right into its mouth.
“That’s the easiest part,” Yonah told them. “Once the Menan Batore is sickened, it will leave or die. Once it moves, the river will flow back into the cave and follow its natural path down and through it to the other side downstream. We have to be ready to enter the cave just as soon as it leaves.”
“Why,” Snakesin asked.
“Because in Tsuwa’tel’da, there is a giant snake that has a healing crystal that grows on its skull,” Yonah said. “It is never strays far from the Tsuwa’tel’da and will use its crystal to heal it. We need to be able to enter the cave and reach the doorway before that happens.”
“How?” Snakeskin asked.
“We’ll ride canoes into the river,” Otter said. “I can build two, one for me and father and one for you and Me Too.”
“Can you build a canoe that will hold up in that rush of wild water?” Snakeskin asked his brother. “I’ve thought of a plan that might work.”
“What is it?” Yonah asked.
“Otter is the swiftest runner among us,” Snakeskin said. “If he stands on the ground above the cave entrance and pours the tannin directly into the water there, it will go directly down the Menan Batore’s gut and sicken it so that it leaves. He’ll then run directly to the canoes where we’re waiting and we’ll brave the rapids to get inside the cave and brave the entrance to Tsuwa’tel’da.”
Yonah nodded and said, “That could work. You should also know that about 100 feet inside the cave, there will be a beach on the right where the entrance is located, but with the rush of water that will be flowing, I don’t know if we’ll be able to make that landing.”
“We’ll do what we can,” Otter said. “If it’s enough, it’ll work, if not, we’ll try again.”
Atsila pointed to her home and said, “What I have here, it is yours. A daughter should not be stolen from her family.”
Yonah and his bowed their heads in respect, grateful for her help. Their courtesy touched her heart and she said, “There are two Iroquoian canoes in the back of my warehouse. They are well made and almost magical in their ability to float and paddle. Also, I have rope made by the people of the Far West. They worship the spider and have learned her secrets of spinning. The ropes are strong and light. Lastly, I have three daggers made from the black frozen blood of the southern fire mountains. These blades are the sharpest in the world and used by the tribes of the south to cut the hearts out of their slaves and to feed to their hungry gods. They are yours to use.”
“Otter smiled at Atsila and said, “We thank you for your help. After rescuing our sister, I will return to you and keep my promise, so that we can talk. Atsila’s smile lit up the room and she leaned closer to Otter with her left hand and gently touched his face. Otter’s eyes filled with tenderness just as Atsila’s right hand sped through the air and savagely slapped his face.
“Why did you do that?” Otter shouted at her.
“Every time you touch your face, I want you to think of me,” she said as she sipped her still warm English tea. Otter’s father and brother’s hid their mouths behind their hands as they drank their tea and laughed quietly at his bewilderment.
“She slapped him?” Goodie asked. “Why?”
“Tough love! Tough love!” Avarice shouted at her.
“It may have been the only way she knew how to show her affection,” Castor said, agreeing with Avarice.
Goodie made a little face and said, “That’s insane.”
“The story?” Castor asked. “Should I continue?”
“Please do,” Goodie said as she made a little bow from her seated position.
That afternoon, Yonah and his sons and Atsila had carted all of the supplies and the canoes over to a small ford that was about 200 yards north of the Menan Batore’s cavern. They also walked downstream and found where the water used to exit the cavern, but now it was just dry riverbed.
“Where is the water going?” Snakeskin asked.
“My best guess is its being diverted to Tsuwa’tel’da,” Atsila said. Yonah’s sons looked at her with surprise.
“I’m a fox woman and I’m originally from there,” she said with a little heat in her voice. She held up one finger and said, “Number one, I’m smart.” She held up a second finger, “Number two, I know a thing or two about magic,” and she then held up a third finger, “And number three, refer to number one.”
They then investigated the cave mouth where Menan Batore rested, his mouth wide as swallowing all the water the river pushed downstream. There was a small ledge about the cave entrance where a person could stand and drop the containers into the water, and there were several hemlocks growing around the ledge that provide convenient limbs and trunks for stability. Atsila and Otter stood on the ledge and stored the clay pots that the others brought. She also had Yonah bring her one of the ropes and stone knives that she had given them to use. She then told Yonah, Snakeskin and Me Too to go ahead and get the canoes ready as she and Otter would be able to handle everything else there.
Otter watched as his father and brothers hurriedly left to go upstream toward the canoes and he asked Atsila what she was doing. Atsila just said trust me and he looked sideways at her as he hurriedly touched the side of his face. Atsila laughed as she cut off a good section of the rope and tied it securely around a hemlock and then around her waist. She then tied the clay pots together with another piece of the rope, then attached a longer piece of the rope and tied that to the same hemlock and then lowered it down to the water. When it was only a couple of feet above the water, she tied it fast and studied her handiwork. She eyed the amount of rope that was tied to her and quickly adjusted the knot.
“Seriously, what are you doing,” Otter asked her again.
Atsila took the stone knife of the southern tribes and sheathed it in her belt before answering. “If Snakeskin was here, he’d already figured it out. I’m going to lower myself by this rope to the clay pots and pour the tannin direct in the Menan Batore’s gullet. You’re going to run back to your father and brothers and paddle down the river after it leaves. If I don’t do it this way, you want have enough time to help them.”
“This is not safe for you,” Otter said and reached out to her to untie the rope. Atsila laughed with joy and stepped backwards and dropped to the river and bounced once, her feet dipping into the water, wetting her toes. “I am a fox woman,” she shouted up at Otter. “This is nothing. Now run and help your father.”
Otter stood and watched for a moment as she swung over and grabbed the clay pots and began uncorking them one by one and pouring them into the water. He made the only decision he could and raced toward where Yonah and his brothers waited.
He was as swift as his brother had claimed and quickly made it. “Atsila is pouring the tannin into the water,” Otter told them.
“We know,” Yonah said as he pushed a canoe into the water with the help of Me Too. “We figured that was what she was planning on doing when she sent us away.”
“So what do we do?” Otter asked, concerned for her safety.
“We use her plan and rescue your sister,” Yonah said. “Don’t worry, son. She’s a fox woman, she has a plan on how she’ll escape.”
“When will we know it’s time?” Me Too asked.
“We’ll know,” Yonah said as he took position in the front of the canoe. True to his word, it was longer before it happened. With a roar and a shake the Menan Batore screamed in pain from the tannin it had swallowed and it pushed itself from the cavern mouth and crawled upon the river bank where it regurgitated barrels of water, black as bile. The men were able to see as the monster push itself upriver and they marveled at its size. It was as long as a tall pine tree and wide as a Cherokee lodge, but the thing that stood out was how wide its mouth was and the teeth that flashed and crashed as they ground together. The Menan Batore rolled and thrashed on the riverbank, destroying rows of trees and bushes as it screamed in rage as the poison burned it from the inside.
“Wait,” Yonah said to his sons as they stood, ready to push into the water. “Wait,” he said again and then the monster fish rolled back into the water and sped back toward the cavern mouth.
“Now and hurry,” he shouted and two strong men per canoe pushed their paddles into the water and speared their ways toward the cavern mouth. The rapids were fast and strong and it was all they could do to avoid the boulders and rocks that jutted from the river bottom, but the canoes were well-made, as promised, and took the abuse without complaint.
As they quickly rushed toward the cave entrance, Otter watched as Atsila used her black stone knife to cut the rope that tethered and drop lightly into his canoe, between him and Snakeskin. Surprised by her agility, he almost stopped paddling, until she raised her hand in a warning slap, at which he paddled even faster.
Inside the cave, the water surged them forward and the landing his father had mentioned was quickly upon them, but to his surprise, the water rushed forward a blackness and through it.
“That way” Atsila yelled over the roar of the river and pointed to the blackness and Otter leaned heavily on his paddle, shooting them into it. As they entered it, that darkness touched his skin and slid over it like oil over the bottom of a hot frying pan. It snapped and crackled and he even felt it sizzle before the darkness gave way to sudden light, and he found himself and the canoe and following through the air toward a lake that had not been there before. Atsila sudden curse told him every thing was not as planned.
“That way” Atsila yelled over the roar of the river and pointed to the blackness and Otter leaned heavily on his paddle, shooting them into it. As they entered it, that darkness touched his skin and slid over it like oil over the bottom of a hot frying pan. It snapped and crackled and he even felt it sizzle before the darkness gave way to sudden light, and he found himself and the canoe and following through the air toward a lake that had not been there before. Atsila sudden curse told him every thing was not as planned.
“With a loud splash, the canoe plunged into the lake dumping everyone into the icy cold water. Atsila quickly surfaced and tread the water, looking for Otter and Snakeskin when a huge shadow blotted out the sun. She looked up and quickly dived down into the deep lake just as the other canoe landed in the water with a massive splat.”
“What?” Goodie said. “What do you mean the other canoe?”
Castor scratched his head and said, “Well, the other canoe carrying Yonah and Me Too came through the same doorway and landed on top of her.”
“Why didn’t it land on top of the other canoe,” Goodie asked. “Wouldn’t it have been there also?”
“No,” Castor said derisively. “Canoes don’t just stand still in water when they’re moving, the continue to move, so the first canoe was already floating away when Yonah’s canoe came through.”
“Oh, I guess that makes sense,” Goodie said. As she said that, the door to the lodge opened and Sagawee the Medicine Woman came in and said, “Hello Goodie and Castor. I’m just going to check on Armie.”
“He seems to be breathing easier,” Goodie volunteered as she stood up, displacing Wolf’s head as she hurried over to her resting brother.
Sagawee placed her hand on his forehead and the leaned over his stomach and smelled his wound. She lifted the bandage and the stench of rotting flesh assailed everyone in the room. She quickly washed and cleaned the wound and replaced the bandages with Goodie’s help.
“Help me lift him a bit,” Sagawee said as she mixed a potion and dribbled it into Armie’s mouth. Most spilled out and around his lips, but some was swallowed and his breathing eased a bit more.
Sagawee pointed to some blankets that were stacked against the wall and said, “Goodie, why don’t you fold those blankets and make some pillows for Armie. I think elevating his head may ease some of his pain.” Goodie quickly complied as Sagawee walked over toward Castor and whispered into his ear for brief moment.
Out loud, Castor said, “Goodie and I will stay here with Armie. I’ve got a story started and I need to finish it.”
“Very well,” Sagawee said. “I see Armie is in good hands with you two.”
“I need some help here,” Goodie said as she tried to force the fold blankets under Armie’s shoulders. Castor rose and began helping her. He lifted Armie’s shoulders up and sighed at how much lighter he already seemed. Goodie pushed a couple of blankets under his shoulders and his breathing began less labored.
“She was right,” Goodie said. “So what did she whisper to you?”
“She just told me that if anything changed to send you to go and get her,” Castor answered. “Do you want me to continue with the story?”
“Yes,” Goodie said. “But let me go outside and find the jakes first.”
After Goodie had answered a call of nature, she resumed her seat and Wolf claimed her place on Goodie’s lap and Avarice decided to perch closer to Castor, so he could hear better.
“So, Atsila had just looked up and found Yonah’s canoe falling out of the sky straight for her head,” Castor said. “In a panic, she turned and dived down deep into the lake and the falling canoe landed with a loud splat, cracking sound across the lakes surface.”
“Was she hurt?” Goodie asked.
“No,” Castor said. “She had dived down just enough to escape the canoe hitting her but when surfaced, she found both canoes overturned, but floating and she saw only one person and that was Yonah, who was working to right one of the canoes.
“Where’s Otter and the others?” she asked as she looked around. Yonah pointed to the nearest shore and Atsila saw three black bears walking out of the lake and each began shaking the water from their fur.
“You really are bear-people,” she said in amazement. “Why didn’t you change when you travelled over?”
“Yonah grunted as he righted the first canoe and motioned for Atsila to swim over and help. “Probably because I was born here in Tsuwa’te’da, like you. I noticed you didn’t change either.”
“Will they be able to change back to men?” Atsila asked.
“Here,” Yonah told her as they floated in the lake. Guide this canoe to the bank and make sure nothings been lost when it hit the water. I’ll get the other one. And yes, I can teach them to shift back to man-form, but we’ll need these canoes and the clothes that are floating around here. This is not a good place to be naked.”
“Let’s hurry,” Atsila said. “The Menan Batore is probably in this lake somewhere.”
“As is the Uktena,” Yonah said as he swam over to the other canoe and began rocking it to get it to flip over.
“The great horned serpent,” Atsila whispered. “Oh my mother and uncles, let’s hurry.”
They were able to get the canoes and supplies over to the shore and found his sons in bear form sitting there, looking forlorn and lost. Atsila laughed and said, “At least they’d make good rugs and robes, eh?”
“Let’s go into the trees and bring the supplies,” Yonah said. “I’ll start a small fire and I’ll teach you boys how to change back.”
Otter, Snakeskin and Me Too tried to help, but their bear form was not built to carry goods or canoes so they sat around and scratched and moped until Yonah and Atsila had set up camp. They had found all the lost clothes and Atsila had even dived down in the clear water and retrieved their moccasins. The young fox woman was proving to be very helpful. As she recovered the items from the bottom of the lake, Yonah was teaching his sons how to reassume their human form.
“It’s from the inside,” Yonah told his sons. “You have been men much, much longer than you have been bears, so reach inside and remember what it feels like to be a man. Here in Tsuwa’tel’da, the magic is everywhere and affects everything. That was why you changed. You weren’t expecting it, so your bear-selves asserted themselves. Now make your human selves remember what it feels like to walk and sing and run.
As Yonah talked, Me Too was the first to change back to human. One moment he was a black bear with sky-blue eyes, and the next, he was a Tsalagi warrior, the only thing the same was the color of his eyes. When Otter and Snakeskin saw their little brother change, they both also converted back to human.
“If you wanted me to see you naked,” Atsila said, “You should take to my uncle’s first, Otter.”
“What?!” Otter shouted in confusion. “You, you, you morally bankrupt woman. It’s not proper for you to see me and my brother’s naked like this.”
“I’m not looking at them,” Atsila said with her knowing smile as she handed Otter his shirt and pants.
Both Snakeskin and Me Too had turned their backs and quickly changed into their clothes as Otter stuttered and blushed.
“Father,” Otter said angrily as he pulled up his trousers and pointed at Atsila.
“You’re an adult and warrior,” Yonah said as he put the wet moccasins closer to the fire to dry. “You handle it. Just know that she is from Tsuwa’tel’da and knows many of the monsters and allies we’ll encounter.
“Make her behave!” Otter demanded.
Yonah turned to Atsila and said, “Behave.”
Atsila bowed her head and said, “Yes, Uncle.”
Otter glared at his father and Atsila and stomped over to the opposite side of the fire and sat down. He took out his bow and string and arrows and put them close enough to the fire to dry, but not too close to damage them. Atsila sat next to him and picked up an arrow and began drying it with her linen shirt and when Otter tried to take it away from her, she pulled her knife and pricked his hand with it. She looked him straight in the eye and said, “You’ll touch what I let you touch.”
From the other side of the fire, Me Too spoke up and said, “Alas, dear brother Snakeskin, it appears that Otter’s days as a free spirit are numbered.”
“Yes,” Snakeskin said as he put his inspected his medicine kits, making sure that all the powders in their water proof containers had survived their dunking. “You know what they say, a man doesn’t know what happiness is until he gets married.”
“See,” Atsila said as she expertly dried the fletching on the arrows and applied a little beeswax to each. “Listen to your smarter brothers.”
“And then it’s too late,” Snakeskin said.
Without looking up Atsila pointed her knife at Snakeskin and said, “I will stab you.”
Armie coughed and choked and Goodie and Castor hurried over to his bed and cleared his mouth of the phlegm that was blocking his mouth. Castor’s wolf laid in front of the door and didn’t move, her eyes fixed on the entrance. Castor and Goodie was able to get Armie to drink a little water and he finally eased back into a more restful sleep.
“Did Sagawee put some medicine in the water to help Armie rest,” Goodie asked.
“Yes,” Castor answered. “Now wash your hands before you sit back down.”
She grabbed a bit of soap and lathered and rinsed obediently but she did ask, “Why?”
“For some reason clean hands keeps sickness at bay,” Castor said.
“Oh,” Goodie said as she sat down and tried to coax the wolf back to her lap. “Why won’t Snow come back and let me pet her?” she asked Castor.
“Snow?” he asked. “You’ve named my wolf now?”
“Yes,” she said.
Castor shrugged and said, “Well she is white, so Snow is a good name and she doesn’t hate it.”
“How do you know?” Goodie asked.
Castor sat down and said, “Because she said so.”
Goodie smiled happily and said, “Good, I’m glad she likes it. But why won’t she come and rest her head in my lap?”
Castor looked at the door and said, “She’s keeping evil spirits out. When someone is as sick as your brother, the scent of his illness attracts the unwholesome. Snow’s making sure they don’t try to slip in.”
“Thank you Snow,” Goodie said gratefully.
“The story!” Avarice shouted. “More story!”
Castor looked up at the ceiling of the lodge and said, “Now where were we? Oh yeah, Atsila had just threatened Snakeskin and Me Too with a justified stabbing.”
“Yonah and his sons and Atsili spent the rest of that day drying out and making plans. The large lake they had landed in was called Itseiyusdi Asdagi and by paddling the canoes north, they’d reach the river that feed it and keep the water clean and pure. In Tsuwa’tel’da, that river was also called Chattahoochee, as many of the rivers and mountains were the same or similar in both worlds.
“In the morning they launched the canoes north with Yonah, Otter, and the Fox Woman in one and Me Too and Snakeskin in the other. They paddled close to shore as Atsila and Yonah warned them that there were creatures in the deeper waters that could cause trouble for even the Menan Batore. As the day lengthened, Snakeskin dropped baited lines in the water and fished as Me Too did all the heavy paddling. Throughout the day Snakeskin would give an excited hoot when he pulled in trout after trout. The others watched and marveled at his skill, both in catching the tasty fish and convincing his larger and stronger little brother to paddle while he fished.
As the sun inched closer to the western horizon, Yonah called over to his sons and said, “We’ll camp up there, close to those old oaks and since we can clean and cook those trout you caught, Snakeskin!”
“Hai!” Snakeskin yelled back in agreement and grabbed the stringer of trout he caught and lifted them in the air for all to see. Each was at least three hands long and he had caught twelve of them. “We’ll eat good tonight he yelled out and held his trophies higher in the air.
With a loud crack, the air shuddered as large wings and talons snatched the fish from Snakeskin’s fist and sped through the air. “Ai Yai!” Snakeskin yelled at the huge bird that beat its wings and quickly sped away to the north. “Shoot it!” he yelled at his brother Otter, but Otter just shrugged and pointed at his bow that was unstrung and in the back of his canoe. Outraged at the theft of his work, Snakeskin shook his fist at the dwindling speck in the air and screamed, “BRING ME BACK MY FISH!”
Yonah and Snakeskin quickly guided the canoes over to the shore in the direction that the giant bird flew and Snakeskin leaped to shore when his touched ground and ran over to the one that Otter shared with Yonah and Atsila. “Your eyes are the best,” he shouted at his brother. “Which way did it fly?”
Otter grabbed his bow and arrows and pointed to the mountains to the west. “Let me grabbed my medicine kit and a staff and let’s go hunt down that thieving bird,” Snakeskin said as his eyes burned red with anger.
“Whoa,” Yonah said. “Are you going to stop our quest to save your sister to catch a fish stealing bird?”
“No father,” Snakeskin said quickly thinking of a way to get his fish back. “Otter and I can track it down while you and Me Too set camp. We’ll be back before it even gets dark.”
Yonah glared at his two sons, one obviously wanting to get back at a bird for stealing his fish and the other just wanting to explore. He sighed and said, “Be back before it gets too dark. We have to leave at first light in the morning and head northwest to the Chattahoochee and take that river north until we get to a mountain called Usgosdi Dahlonega. That is where Crow lived when I was born and grew from a cub to a man. It will take time as she will have her servants watching for us.”
Me Too spoke up and asked as he quickly looked around, “Is she watching for us now?”
Yonah pointed to the west and said, “You saw that big hawk, no crow will hang around and become its supper.”
Otter and Snakeskin were hurriedly getting the bare essentials they’d need to hunt the hawk. Yonah grabbed Atsila by the arm and walked her over to the two men. “Take the Fox Woman with you,” he said. “Her nose and eyes will come in useful.”
As the mid-afternoon sun speared golden beams of light through the old wood forest, Atsila lead Otter and Snakeskin like a human wolf-pack with Atsila with her sharp eyes and keen nose. Even though they loped around massively girthed oaks and threaded between the straight and cloud reaching pines, she keep them on a path west, toward the rounded and green mountains the sun was setting toward.
Several times as they ran Otter and Snakeskin both exclaimed how the air tasted different and they felt that they could run forever. Atsila would just toss her mane of orange-red hair and laugh at them and remind them that everything here in Tsuwa’tel’da benefited from the magic of the land, air and water, so not to get over confident in there new found strength and stamina.
It wasn’t long before Atsila lead them up a thin and wandering path up into the mountains. As they climbed the path, she would stop and listen and sniff and then smile as she led them higher and higher. Finally they reached a sheer rock face that climbed over 200 feet into the air. As they approached it they could see that a large cave entrance was at the top. The granite face had many vines, both grape and ivy that were anchored into it, offering a strong and agile person a means to reach the cave.
“Is this it?” Otter asked quietly. Atsila motioned them over to a holly thicket, under which its prickly green leaves they crouched. They dropped the ropes and packs they brought and Atsila handed them each one of the obsidian knives she’d brought.
“Yes it is,” Atsila whispered and pointed to the fresh bones of several of the stolen trout that lay at the foot of the cliff-face.
Snakeskin eyed the cliff and the vines that crawled its entire length and asked, “So, do you think we can climb those vines and make our way into the cave?”
“Yes, if you want to die,” Atsila sneered. “All it would take is for a sharp-eyed hawk to see us climbing up, wait for us to get halfway and then change to man-form and sever the vines we’re climbing on or throw rocks at us until we fall.”
“That would be bad,” Otter said as he looked how high half way was.
“Or,” Atsila continued. “The Hawk could stay in bird form and fly at us with its beak and talons and knock us off the cliff and we’d fall to our deaths.”
“I already said that would be bad,” Otter said. “You didn’t have to go on.”
Atsila smiled at Otter and said, “I just wanted to make sure you appreciate my plan on how we get in there.”
“You’ve already got a plan?” Snakeskin asked.
“Yes,” Atsila answered. “But Otter has to tell me how wonderful I am first before I’ll share it.”
“I’m not doing that,” Otter said. “She might take it to mean that I’ll marry her.”
“That’s no longer in question,” Atsila replied. “What we’re doing now is establishing how lucky you are to be marrying me and that you know it and are willing tell me how wonderful and beautiful I am. And until you do, my plan remains with me.”
“I’m not doing that,” Otter hissed angrily. But then he felt a sharp prick as Snakeskin’s pressed his knife into his older brother’s back, prodding his kidney. “That’s a long way to fall if we have to climb those vines, brother,” Snakeskin said as he probed just a tad harder with the knife.
“Atsila, you are wonderful and beautiful and I am very lucky to be abused by you,” Otter said.
Atsila grabbed Otter by the face and kissed him soundly. “Just so you know,” she said with a very light laugh. “Here’s my plan. We walk a mile to the south, climb the mountain there to the top. We then walk back over to here. You see those hickory trees at the top of the cliff? We tie the rope we brought to those trees and run and jump out away from the cliff. If we measure the rope correctly and hang on tight, once the ropes pop tight, it’ll swing us straight and fast into the mouth of the cave.”
Otter looked at this brother and said, “Brother, if you love me, you’ll kill me now.”
“My plans good,” Atsila hissed angrily.
“Your plan’s insane,” Otter hissed back.
Snakeskin reached out and pinched both of them and said, “Hush, you’re both arguing like an old married couple.” Atsila looked surprise but happy, but Otter glared at his brother for saying that. “We can use part of the plan,” he continued. We do like Atsila said, hike south, climb the mountain there, and hike back to here. We spy out the area and if we can, we tie our ropes to those trees and let ourselves down to the cave mouth and quietly drop in.”
“My way’s faster,” Atsila said as they gathered their supplies back up.
“Yes, but not everyone has the agility of a Fox Woman,” Snakeskin said. “What you can do easily, gets most others killed.”
In the innervated air of Tsuwa’tel’da, the trio quickly moved south and climbed the mountain and sped their way upwards to the top. From there, Atsila led them to the spot above the cave entrance where the gigantic hawk was nesting. Snakeskin crawled to the edge and looked over while Otter held his feet. “Pull me up,” Snakeskin said. “I see what we need to do.”
Otter pulled his brother up and Snakeskin, “There’s a good-sized ledged…”
And Atsila yelled upward and interrupted “that sticks out a good four feet, we can drop down and roll into the cave mouth. It’s easily ten feet high and least twice that wide.”
Both brothers looked for the Fox Woman and found her hanging upside-down by her feet from a thick muscadine vine and looking into the cave. “Hurry up,” she said. “I’m going in.” With that she dropped and turned like a cat and landed on the ledge. When the pebbles and dirt fell from above unto her, she looked up at the brothers who rushed the edge to see and she grinned upwards at them, flashing her foxy grin.
“Damn her,” Otter almost shouted and he and Snakeskin rushed over to the ropes, quickly tied them to the hickory trees and repelled over the face of the cliff and straight into the mouth of the cave. Snakeskin unsheathed the black stone knive Atsila gave him and Otter readied his bow, but to their surprise, the cave extended further back into the cave and they could see the glow of a fire and the shadows and figures of at least four people, two medium and two small. Worried about Atsila, Otter and Snakeskin rushed forward, prepared to fight, but when the reached the fire, they found Atsila standing calmly before a striking beautiful dark-haired woman with sharp black eyes and the nose of a hawk. Behind them were two children, lying on pallets in front of a fire and moaning like they had the red cough fever.
Atsila showed the woman her black stone knife and then sheathed it and said, “As I told you, Tla’nuwa, we are not here to harm you or your children. The one behind me with the intelligent eyes just wanted his fish back.”
“Aren’t my eyes intelligent?” Otter asked as he lowered his bow.
“No, husband to be,” Atsila answered without taking her eyes off the woman she called Tla’nuwa. “You pretty ones are always stupid.”
“The fish are mine,” the woman spoke up with a fierce voice. “The lake is mine and the fish in it.”
“I caught them,” Snakeskin answered. “So they were mine.”
“If I can take them from you, then they really weren’t yours, were they,” she spat back. “And why does a human man believe he can talk to me like an equal?”
“Because this man is going to take his fish back and beat you with a switch,” Snakeskin shouted back.
The woman’s eyes flashed and her nose appeared sharper and her hair and eyes blacker as she puffed up in anger.
“Hold,” Atsila ordered in aloud voice as Otter stood behind her, his bow once again pointing at the other woman. “Where is your husband? You Tla’nuwa raise your young together, man and woman. Where is he?”
“He’s out finding food for our young,” the woman replied. “He will be back anytime now, so you need to leave while you still can.”
Atsila eyed the woman and her sick children and continued. “Why are your fledglings sick? The Hawk People rarely become ill. Has something happened?”
“They aren’t sick, but sleepy. Hawk children tire easily at this time of day,” the Hawk Woman replied.
Atsila shook her head and said, “I see two sick children lying on beds prepared by a woman. I can smell the fever and ague that causes them to moan and shiver. I see clothes and bedding for woman and no man, and most telling, my nose says there has been no man here for a very long time. Hawk woman, I have with me two dead eyed human killers with me and I think it’s time you told me the truth.”
The woman looked at Atsila and said, “Your eyes are sharp, Fox Woman and can see that no man lives here.” With that the woman bent her knees and bowed her head and said to Atsila, “I am Tawodi on the Hawk People and I ask that you forgive my theft and spare my children for my husband has been slain by the Tla’nuwa’s mortal enemy and I am now alone to care for them.”
Atsila eyed Tawodi as she knelt in front of her and asked, “What do you have to trade for your life?”
“No,” Snakeskin said. “We are good people and do not bargain over the help we give to women and children.”
He reached over and took Tawodi hand and raised her up and said, “The fish are forgiven, but tell me what is wrong with your children. I have some knowledge of healing and what I don’t know, my father might.”
Tawodi rose and glared less angrily at Snakeskin and asked, “Who are you to forgive and help me and mine?”
“I am Snakeskin, this is my brother Otter and the Fox Woman is Atsila. We are here in Tsuwa’tel’da with my father and youngest brother to find our baby sister and rescue her from the Crow Woman. We have no anger toward you or yours.”
Tawodi led him back to her children, a boy and a girl and said, “This is my story. My husband and I are of the Tla’nuwa, the Hawk People of Tsuwa’tel’da. We rule the air and claim the fish of the lake. Our eyes are sharp and our talons long and deep and all manners of birds, fish, and snakes fear us, for the last thing they hear before their death is the thunderclap of our wings as our talons and beaks pierce their hearts and livers. We are proud and fierce fighters, but we do have our mortal enemies, Crows and the Uk’tena. Crows because they think the air is theirs, but they hide in the trees and keep silent as we wing by and the great snake Uk’tena, because we kill and eat its young and the cousins of its young. Because of our enemies, when one hunts, the other stays in our aeries protecting our brood. If both were to hunt together, crows would fly in and throw my babies to the ground or a Uk’tena would crawl in and eat every child here.
“What happened,” Snakeskin said as he examined the two children. He had quickly found marks on them that looked almost like burns and he could see where the burns were causing red lines to radiate away from them on their skin, a sure sign that infection was setting in.
Tawodi reached down and smoothed the brow of her son’s fevered head and said, “Our aerie was on the mountain to the north, the one that the Chattahoochee runs around before it spill into the lake. It was seven mornings ago and I was out hunting and my mate was here with our four children, three boys and a girl. Our cave faced east, so that the morning sun could warm us, and I believe that was what allowed the Uk’tena to get close enough to attack.”
“On that morning, the sun shown in bright and harsh and I believe that covered the light that shines from the Ulstitlu. It was able to enter our cave and attack with first its venomous breath, slaying two of my sons immediately. My brave husband, Swimmer, fought through the poisonous cloud and threw my other two children outside toward the river, but his strength was only enough to throw them partway down the cliff. The Uk’tena saw them and tried to reach them, but Swimmer changed into hawk-form and attacked him with claw and beak, wounding the giant snake. I heard the battle and rushed back in time to see the Uk’tena encircle Swimmer with its crystalline body and crush the life out of him. Even though he was dead, he had wounded the Uk’tena severely and its blood was splattered everywhere. Some droplets had even reached my two little ones and as the Uk’tena’s breath is poisonous and vile, so is its blood. I had just enough time to grabbed them and fly to here, an old cave that my people had prepared for an emergency. We had been without much food for seven days and when I saw the fish you had caught, I knew it meant the difference between life and death for my young.”
Snakeskin opened his medicine bag and said, “Tawodi, I make no promises, but since the cause of their sickness is the poison blood of the Uk’tena, I may be able to help.” He turned to Otter and Atsila and said to them, “Return to the camp and get our father and brother and tell them I need the root of the plant Snake-fang, which should grow in the shade of the hemlock along the lake. Also, tell father that if he knows the songs that can help cure this sickness, now is the time to recall it.”
Tawodi touched the arm of Snakeskin and said, “Who is your father to know so much medicine of the Tsuwa’te’da.”
Snakeskin sat between the two children and just before he began his medicine singing, he said, “My father is Yonah, last of the blue-eyed bears of Tsuwa’tel’da, and his knowledge is their knowledge.”
“Okay,” Goodie said interrupting Castor’s story. “I don’t understand about the Uk’tena and the Tla’nuwa and the Ulstitlu and the Ulunsu’ti and the poison blood and the bad breath of the snake and everything.”
Castor sighed and said, “Are you going to keep interrupting every time you have a question?”
“It’s what she does!” cawed Avarice. “It’s what she does!”
“So explain it,” Goodie said as she got up and check on her brother. The medicine he’d received earlier had eased his breathing and he was resting better to her eyes.
“As you wish,” Castor said as he waited for her to get back and sit down. Even though she patted the place next to her, Snow kept her nose pointed at the door.
“The Uk’tena is the great horned serpent of Cherokee lore. It is easily twenty to thirty feet long and as wide as an old maple tree. Its body is said to be look like translucent crystals that have bands of various colors that run from its head to its tail. The stories say that its breath is poisonous to breathe and if it is injured, its blood is venomous and deadly. There is a crystal on its skull above its eyes and that crystal is called Ulstitlu and shines with a great light at all times, since that is where the Uk’tena’s magic is centered. It is said that the Uk’tena sees all things that are within the range of its eyes, even the invisible and hidden. If the Uk’tena is ever slain, then the Ulstitlu can be removed and it becomes the most magical of talismans called the Ulunsu’ti. With the Ulunsu’ti, a great shaman can use it to heal most all diseases, but he can also use it to divine a person’s future, so it is a most coveted and powerful artifact.
“Now the Uk’tena is a giant serpent, so who are its natural enemies?” Castor asked. “Why giant birds are and the Tla’nuwa are giant hawks. The Uk’tena make a habit of finding their nests and climbing in them and eating the young, just like snakes do here, and the Tla’nuwa are snake eaters, so when they find a Uk’tena, they will fly down and savage them with the talons and dragged them hundreds of feet into the air and dropped them, letting the fall finish it off.
Goodie smiled and said, “Okay, NOW I understand what’s going on. But does Otter like Atsila?”
“What do you think,” Castor asked back.
“I think he does,” Goodie answered. “I think she’s interesting and different and Otter likes that.”
“Well, we just have to see, want we?” Castor said. “Now, are you ready?”
“Yes,” she said as she settled back down to listen.
“It did not take long for Atsila to run to the camp and bring Yonah and Me Too back to Tawodi’s aerie. Once there, he quickly examined the children and his blue eyes saddened before he turned to Tawodi.“The blood of the Uk’tena is very slow but extremely poisonous and it will eventually take the lives of your fledglings,” he told her. Tawodi bowed her proud head and her raven black hair covered her face as she begged, “Can you save them?” “The plants and roots that Snakeskin asked for will delay the poison as long as he sits here and sings the songs, but for a cure, the only thing that will help is an Ulunsu’ti,” Yonah said. “And those are very hard to obtain, in fact I only know of three being won during my lifetime and I am very, very old.” “How do we get one?” Otter asked. “And do the little ones have enough time for us to find one?” Snakeskin sat beside the two children, grinding the root in his granite pestle using the thighbone of a raccoon and spoke up, “You get one by prying it off the dead skull of a grown Uk’tena.” He reached into his medicine bag and brought out a translucent crystal that was as long as his hand and as thick as a spears shaft. He twisted it and the top popped off and revealed that it was a specially made vial. “I also need some of the Uk’tena’s blood. Capture in this, and make sure none get on you.” He then replaced the top and handed it to Otter. “The children will live as long as I sing the song, but I’ll need the Ulunsu’ti to cure them and father will need to teach me the healing song of the Uk’tena, the one they use to cure other creatures and themselves.” “I don’t know it,” Yonah said with grief. “I know much about bear and man magic and the healing art of our friends the plants, but the Song of the Uk’tena, I know nothing.” “Then my children will die,” Tawodi cried softly and sunk to her knees. “Idiots,” Atsila said with scorn. “It’s not just the Tla’nuwa, the Hawk People that have been attacked and eaten by the Uk’tena and the monsters that are its allies. There are another people that hate the Uk’tena as much as Tawodi and for the same reasons. It has wormed its way into their lairs and eaten their children and mothers and warriors.” “Who,” Snakeskin asked. “You are a wise one, aren’t you,” Yonah said with praise to Atsila and she basked and preened in his honest admiration. “She means the Beaver People. The Uk’tena lives around and in water and the Beavers have born its attack more than most. If any might know the song, it could be one of them.” Yonah turned to Tawodi, who was now looking up, her tears stopped but still dripping from her chin. “Is there a village of the Dam Folk nearby?” he asked and she quickly nodded yes. “Then take Otter and Snakeskin and Atsila and ask them if they know of anyone who might know the song.” Snakeskin spoke up and said, “Take Me Too, his greater strength may be needed and I will not leave these children, but instead I will stay here and sing the healing songs I know.” Yonah walked over and sat down with his son and said, “With the two of us singing, it will be twice as strong.” He turned to the others and ordered, “Now go, and hurry there and back as we still need to develop a plan of attack against the Uk’tena. They are notoriously difficult to kill.”
With Tawodi flying over head in her hawk-shape and Atsila following her with her sharp eyes, Me Too and Otter were able to cover the distance quickly to the village of the Di’ya also known as the Dam Folk or the Beaver People. Their village was in a natural cove close to where the Chattahooche drain into the lake Itseiyusdi Asdagi. Tawodi landed and changed back into human form and stood naked and proud staring at the Di’ya village as Atsila ran up to her with her change of clothes. As the Hawk Woman put on her clothes, Me Too and Otter strode forward and studied the village. It was stranger than any other they had seen before. There were many, many homes and all the lodges were built in the middle of the cove and there appeared to be as much of the house built under the water as was above it. All the homes had several windows, but no visible doors and there appeared to be giant otters swimming around and near the homes, almost like guards.
“Where are all the people,” Otter asked as he looked around.
“They’re there,” Towadi and Atsila both said together. The fox’s and the hawk’s eyesight vastly superior to the two brothers.
“We’ll go over there and wait,” Towadi said and pointed north a little to a wooden pavilion that was built close to the cove. “It’s where traders and other Folk go and wait to speak with one of the Di’ya’s headmen.”
No sooner did they step under the wooden pavilion, which was made with exquisite craftsmanship, did a very pretty girl with long brown hair and soft brown eyes pop up out of the lake and walk naked to the group.
“Shameless creature,” Tawodi hissed. “There are warriors present, where are your robes.”
Otter felt the pinch of a very sharp knife in his back and Atsila leaned close and said softly in his ear, “Do you see something you like, husband-to-be?”
“Just that she has the prettiest brown eyes,” Otter whispered back and felt the knife point move away, but he knew better than to relax.
The pretty girl smiled and said, “Hawk woman, this is the home of the Beaver People, and the lake is our mother and her embrace is warm and caring. Clothes only interfere with her touch and caress. But if the body of a pretty girl offends you, then I will put on a robe.” She then turned to one of the benches that lined the pavilion and lift the seat, revealing a compartment that held several robes and donned one. She then went to a corner of the wooden pavilion and sat on the bench and said, “Please sit and tell me why the Hawk woman of this area, a Fox woman, and two human warriors are visiting the Village of the Dam Folk.”
Otter spoke up and said, “We have need of your knowledge concerning a mutual enemy.”
“And what enemy is that?” she asked and smiled slightly when she noticed Atsila sidle closer to Otter’s side.
“The Uk’tena,” Otter said. “We seek to slay it and obtain the Ulunsu’ti.”
“Why?” the Beaver Girl asked.
“The Uk’tena slew the Hawk Woman’s mate and two of her fledgling and drops of the Uk’tena’s blood has poisoned her last two children. With the magic of the Ulunsu’ti, we can cure them,” Otter declared.
“Still,” the pretty girl asked. “Why should the Di’ya help you?”
Tawodi stood up and faced the girl and said, “Your belly has the marks of childbirth and your breasts are full of milk. Where are your kits? Where is your man?”
The pretty girl’s eyes brown eyes harden into chips of stone and she said, “The Uk’tena came and breached our defenses and entered my lodge. It grabbed me and thrust me out a window and then returned inside to eat my man and kits while I wailed and screamed outside. The women of my tribe swam up and forced me away, as many have had the same experience.”
“The Uk’tena spared you?” Tawodi spat and looked at the girl with disgust. “Why?”
“To keep enough of us alive to make more babies for it to eat,” she answered.
“Then why don’t you move?” Me Too asked in his deep voice.
“This is our fourth village, strong warrior” she answered demurely. “It always follows us.”
“Then have your warriors fight and drive it off,” Me Too said.
“It has already eaten most of our warriors,” the girl answered. “The old, the young, and the surplus males are eaten. The Uk’tena is smart, it will not allow us to grow enough sons to fight it.”
“Then you have but one hope,” Otter declared. “Help us to kill the Uk’tena and your village may yet be saved.”
“How,” the pretty girl said. “We are mostly women and children, we are not warriors.”
“We need your knowledge,” Otter said. “Do you know of anyone that has learned the healing song of the Uk’tena? My father is Yonah, one of the last of the blue-eyed bears, and he is here with my other brother. We will kill the Uk’tena and obtain the Ulunsu’ti, but we need to know the healing song.”
Pretty girl smiled and hope brightened her eyes as she said, “We may be only women in this village, but our hate is strong and the Uk’tena thinks us weak. We have learned the song you seek as we have watched and waited hoping to find a weakness we could exploit of the Great Horned Snake, but there will be a price.”
“We are freeing you from the Uk’tena,” Atsila exploded, her eyes casting daggers at the pretty girl. “What further price do you want?”
The pretty girl smiled sweetly at Atsila and said, “I count two men here and the one you cling too said that his father and another brother are nearby. We want half of them if you succeed.”
“Half!” Atsila shouted. “You’re insane! None.!”
“All,” Tawodi shouted. “If your song works to save my children.”
“Which is it?” The pretty Di’ya girl asked. “None? Half? Or All?”
“None,” Otter said. “We are free men and will not be bought, sold or traded.”
The pretty girl leaned forward and said, “But if you want to save the Hawk woman’s children, you’ll have to pay that price.”
“We are beholden to save her children,” Me Too said. “We’re doing it because it is the righteous path. Just as we will try and save your children.”
“Then why are you here?” the Di’ya girl asked.
“Because Crow Woman came to our home in the Green Land and stole our baby sister and slew our mother,” Me Too answered. “We are here to rescue her and bring her home.”
“Then it is a good thing you seek to destroy the Uk’tena first,” the Di’ya girl said. “It is the Crow Woman’s strongest ally. She and it banded together to destroy the Tla’nuwa. She was the one that informed it how to use the morning sun to hide the flashing of its head crystal and sneak into the Hawk woman’s cave. With one stroke of planning, the Crow Woman removed her strongest winged competitor; for hawks, especially the falcon, will take crows off of tree limbs and eat them for amusement and they’ll also fly down and snatch a serpent from the ground and eat it in mid-air as a snack. But if you want to get to the Crow Woman’s lair, you’ll have to kill the Uk’tena first, as it now lives in the cave that the Tlu’nuwa used to own and it lies directly in your path.
“Knowing now why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Otter asked. “Will you help us?”
The pretty girl bowed her head and said, “The Di’ya will give of what we have, for it is time to either be free of the Uk’tena or dead.” She then raised her eyes and smiled shyly at Me Too and said, “But if your warriors choose to stay in our lodges, we will be happy to provide food, drink and warmth while you plan your attack on the Uk’tena and we teach you its healing song.”
Otter felt the soft prick of promise from Atsila’s black-stone knife just below his kidney and he said, “Please teach me the song so I can take it to my brother without delay.”
“As you wish,” the pretty girl said. “But please, now that we are friends, please call me by my name, Uwaduhi Gule.
“Did Uwaduhi Gule teach Otter the song?” Goodie asked.
“No,” Castor answered. “Atsila the Fox Woman thought it would be a better idea if they took Uwaduhi to Tawodi’s cave so she could teach the song directly to Snakeskin, so that is what they did. Uwaduhi taught Snakeskin the Uk’tena’s healing song and afterwards Yonah and his sons and Atsila and Tawodi discussed with Uwaduhi how to fight and kill the Uk’tena so that its healing crystal could be taken and used to heal Tawodi’s son and daughter.
Uwaduhi spoke up and said that she could take her hawkform, fly down and snare the Uk’tena in her talons and fly very high into the sky and drop it onto the ground. She said that is what they do with smaller snakes and turtles to kill them.
“That is a good plan,” Father Bear told her. “But the Uk’tena is as long as a pine three and as thick around as a wild boar. You would not be able to fly upwards with it in your talons. It is too heavy. Besides, its venom would kill you where you stand, even if it just touched your skin. Your children are proof of that. They are dying from a diluted, water-downed dose. We need a plan that keeps us alive and unharmed.”
“There is a story that the Dam People have heard about how a great warrior killed a Uk’tena,” Uwaduhi offered. “We would try the plan, but our warriors are dead.”
“What is the story,” Atsila asked interested. Being a Fox Woman, she also loved hearing of new stories.
“This is the story is of a human warrior and how an Uk’tena had preyed on his village eating the elderly and the young,” Uwaduhi said. “The warriors of the village had tried to attack the Uk’tena but every time they would gather and rush to attack it, the hunters and warriors would see the great serpent and fall prey to its magic and either stand still like a rabbit hypnotized by a rattlesnake or they would be confused and rush the Uk’tena leaving their weapons behind. In either case, the Uk’tena would then take its time and kill all the warriors and hunters that came for it,”
“There was one warrior who was smarter than the rest and he was called Flat Rock, as his face was flat as the rocks that can be found alongside the river. Flat Rock was a great hunter and he had an idea. He went and found where the mountain where the Uk’tena laired. He then ran up one side of the mountain and down the other. At the bottom of the other side, he dug trench that the Uk’tena could not easily crawl out of. In this trench he gathered and dumped all the pine cones he could find until the trench was filled to the top. Flat Rock then walked to the other side of the trench, the side that was closes to the Uk’tena and walked a ways back up the mountain and then raced back to the trench and jumped across it to the other side, clearing it by a good distance. Here he dug another, smaller trench that he covered with deer hides and leaves.
“His trap set, Flat Rock set the pines cones on fire and raced back to with his bow an arrows to where the Uk’tena was sunning itself. Flat Rock saw the great horned serpent and sent an arrow that pierced the seventh ring of color that circled the Uk’tena’s body, as this was where its heart lay. Mortally wounded, rose up to seek its enemy, but Flat Rock jumped up and raced up and down the mountain, never looking at the Uk’tena. The serpent gave chase and was very fast and almost caught up to Flat Rock, but Flat Rock gave a giant leap and cleared the trench with the burning pines cones and fell into the second trench and hid under the leaf covered deer hides. The Uk’tena fell into the burning trench and was consumed by the fire. When the fire died down, Flat Rock dug out the magic crystal, the Ulunsu’ti, and became a great shaman for his tribe and it prospered from the day.”
The Hawkwoman Tawodi said, “That is a fine story, but how does that help us? It takes time to dig a trench big enough to trap the Uk’tena and we do not have enough time or men.”
Yonah, Father Bear said, “A trap is a good idea. And I remember how fire can stop the poison of the Uk’tena from harming others. I may have an idea that will work, but I will need the help of my sons and the remaining men, women and children and old ones of your tribe, Uwaduhi. Tell me, Uwaduhi, is your tribe as talented and skilled at the felling of trees as the stories tell?”
“Yes,” she said. “But why?”
Father Bear smiled his angry bear smile, flashing all of his teeth and told her, “Have your people fell every pine tree that is dripping resin and have them move them to where I need them to be placed. I have a plan that may work. That has to work.” Father Bear looked at Tawodi and frowned with sadness. “I need you to be brave, Hawk Woman,” he said. “If this works your son and daughter may still die, but at least your enemy will die with them.”
Goodie held her breath, carefully not to disturb Snow, the she-wolf as she accused Castor, “Father Bear would not allow those children to die. He’s a good man and he will save them.”
“You’re right,” Castor agreed. “He is a good man, but because he is good, he also will not promise Tawodi that he’ll save someone that he can’t. Because he is good and strong, he’ll tell a friend the truth, even if it hurts them.”
“Oh,” Goodie said as that truth set in. “I didn’t see that. Go on with the story.”
Castor edged closer to Goodie and Armie. He looked Armie with concern in his eyes and said to the she-wolf, “Snow, guard the door.”
The she-wolf removed her head from Goodie’s lap and moved in front of the lodge’s entrance and sat back on her haunches and picked her ears up becoming fully alert. Goodie eyes started to brim with tears and she glared angrily at Castor and accused him, “Why are you making Snow do that? She was happy with me petting her. Why are you being so mean?”
Castor glanced at Snow guarding the doorway before answering. “Sometimes evil witches will turn invisible and sneak inside the home of a sick person,” he said to Goodie. “They will then use their magic to steal the remaining life of the sick person. Wolves can sense them and will keep them out. Snow is guarding the door to protect your brother.”
“Avarice,” Goodie said to talking Crow. “Is that true?”
“True, true!” Avarice cawed. “Your mother would go and protect the sick and dying.”
“Can you see invisible witches?” Goodie asked him and the crow bobbed up and down letting her know that he can.
“Then you also protect my brother,” she ordered the crow and Avarice hopped away from Goodie and found a new perch on the cot beside Armie’s now peacefully sleeping body.
Goodie looked around uncomfortably and she stood up and walked over to Armie and sat down closer to him. “Do you think there are any witches close by?” she asked Castor.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “But it’s better to be safe than to be sorry.”
“I guess the story telling is done then,” she said with regret.
“No,” Castor said. “With the animals guarding Armie, if you want to hear the rest, it’ll be okay to continue.”
“Really?” Goodie quickly said. “If you think it’ll be okay, then I want to learn what happens to Father Bear and the Uk’tena.”
“Okay,” Castor said and he continued the story.
“For two days Father Bear had the Di’ya tribe fell pine trees that were bursting and dripping with resin and sap. He had them drag the trees away from the lake and stack them into a large circle that was fifty feet across. In the center of the circle, he and Otter and Me Too took to their bear forms and dug a hole that was twice as deep as a tall man.”
“Where’s Snakeskin?” Goodie asked.
“He had to stay with the Tawodi’s children and sing the song of healing that kept them alive,” Castor answered. “They did move the children to one of the Dam People’s lodges so they would be closer, but it was only Snakeskin’s magic that kept the poison at bay.”
“He then had the last few warriors of the Di’ya and their strongest women dig holes in the ground around the outside of the circle of fallen pine trees. The holes were large enough to hold one to two people and the tops were covered with deer hides that had dirt and leaves pushed over them. When Father Bear was done, those personal hidey holes were very difficult to see.”
“During the time that the Di’ya and Father Bear and his sons were readying the trap for the Uk’tena, Atsila was out and about tracking it down and she found it on the second day. She was searching about a mile north of the Dam People’s village when a bright flash caught her attention and she used all her talent and expertise as a stealthy thief to sneak up to where the flashing light was.”
“Do you know what she found?” Castor asked Goodie.
“Was it the Uk’tena?” she asked quietly, intent upon the story.
“Yes,” Castor said. “And it was as big as the stories told. It was as long as a pine tree and as thick around as a wild boar. The Uk’tena’s scales sparkled like well polished silver in the sun and rings of color circled its large body. But that wasn’t the strangest part of this huge serpent, for it large viper head had two horns upon it and in between the horns shone a crystal the size of a warrior’s fist. It was this crystal, the Ulunsu’ti, that reflected the sun’s light and that identified the large serpent as the Uk’tena.
“Being a wise Fox Woman, Atsila did not allow the Uk’tena to sense her presence and snuck back to the Di’ya Village and told Father Bear of the Uk’tena’s location. Father Bear was in the lodge where the Hawk Woman’s children were being cared for and the droning of Snakeskin singing his healing magic could be heard in the background. All who would fight and make decisions were in the lodge. Father Bear and his three sons, Atsila the Fox Woman, Tawodi the Hawk Woman, Uwaduhi of the Di’ya the Dam People and the remaining Di’ya warriors and Elders were also there.
“They shared a meal of roasted corn, squash, fresh caught catfish, and okra and Father Bear explained his plan. “Tomorrow we will attack and kill the Uk’tena,” Father Bear said very seriously. “Tonight I and Snakeskin will make our medicines and sing the songs of the Bear to give us all strength and endurance for tomorrow. Tawodi, much will depend upon you and Atsila. Rest up, for we will start at first light. For the rest, you will follow me and my sons as we will hide in the hidden pits dug around the circle of the pine trees we laid out yesterday and today.
“Father Bear told the Di’ya warriors and strong women. Those who will be with me at the North point of the circle will be painted blue. Those with Otter at the West point will be painted black, those with Snakeskin at the East point will be painted red, and those who accompany Me Too at the South point will be painted white. Remember to take with you your fire bowls, bows and arrows and spears. If we do not succeed tomorrow, not only will Tawodi’s children die, so will we and the Di’ya who survive tomorrow will only become food for the Uk’tena later on.”
“Prepare yourselves for success tomorrow,” Father Bear told them. “Because failure means death.
“Why’d Father Bear have the people who were helping him paint themselves the different colors?” Goodie asked. “And why are the people called Tsalagi or Cherokee?”
Castor nodded with pleasure with Goodie’s questions and he said, “First, the Cherokee people call themselves Tsalagi. Cherokee is the name that the English gave to them. The same thing happened to the Muscogee. The English named them Creek after noticing that the Muscogee settled up and down the rivers and creeks.”
Castor got up and put some more wood on the fire and then sat back down. He talked as he did this task. “The Tsalagi believe that the four cardinal points of direction have a specific color that is associated with it,” he said. “Blue for the North, White for the South, Black for the West and Red for the East. Father Bear was using powerful magic and wanted every advantage possible to help in the fight against the Uk’tena.”
Goodie clapped her hands in excitement as she learned more about the Cherokee and said, “That makes sense. Does it really work?”
Castor grinned with impudence and asked her, “Why don’t you ask your talking crow?”
“But my mother’s magic isn’t Cherokee magic,” Goodie protested. “It’s mountain magic.”
And the crow laughed and Goodie blushed with embarrassment. “Is it really the same?” she asked.
“Magic is magic,” Avarice cawed. “That’s what your mother says.”
“Oh,” Goodie said as she turned her head away in shame at her ignorance.
“It’s okay,” Castor said to her. “You wouldn’t know that until someone tells you.”
“Who told you,” Goodie asked interested in his answer.
“There was ah Tsalagi woman in my home village,” Castor said. “She taught me and my brother Pol all the stories she could. She also explained about Tsalagi magic and how it was the same as English magic or French magic.”
“Now,” Castor said as he sat back down near to Goodie. “Would you like me to continue with the story?”
“Please,” Goodie said.
Castor thought for a second and said, “That next morning Father Bear and his sons and the Di’ya tribesmen and women put on their body paint and took their weapons and clay pots that held embers went and hid in the trenches dug around the circle of pine trees. Tawodi and Atsila trekked over to where Atsila last saw the Uk’tena.
Part 41: No Tears
Goodie, dressed in borrowed black, stood over the grave that Castor and Pol had dug. She had picked a hill with a single persimmon tree, so that the sun would shine on it every day. Avarice perched on her shoulder, silent and refusing to be separated from her. Goodie stared down into the ground at Armie’s body, the fever and rot having robbed him of his breath and color. She did not cry. The many Cherokee women of Chagee stood with her and held her, but their warmth and life was not felt, for her heart was cracked and dying.
Part 42: Nodoroc Looms
John Franklin straightened his sore back and leaned on his hoe for a short rest. His captors were not harsh masters, but they didn’t put up with any extended laziness. Life had changed since Torquay’s sacrificial death; young Sidmouth was now rabbit quiet with eyes that wanted to cry, but didn’t. Even Wallace had changed. He now assumed Torquay’s old role and saw to the younger boy, making sure he ate and helping him with his chores. John looked over his shoulder toward Nodoroc and saw that the ever-present funnel-cloud was still that evil, dark blue. They were not safe.
Part 43: Leaving
John Franklin pushed the heavy blanket aside as he stooped to enter the slave-house. When Nodoroc’s cloud had darkened, the chief had posted extra guards since Wallace’s intention to escape was now well known.
Wallace was sitting next to the Sidmouth, making sure the young boy ate. “What did the chief say?” Wallace asked.
“He’s going to take us to Nodoroc to appease the Wog,” John said.
“Didn’t Torquay’s death do that?” Wallace asked.
“Apparently not,” John replied. He looked around the hut at their meager belongings and made a decision.
“Wallace,” he said. “Tonight you’ll help us all escape.”
Part 44: The Boys Escape
Two miles north of Snodon, the three boys stopped at a rock outcropping that Wallace pointed out to them. Underneath a brush-covered ledge, Wallace pulled out four packages and handed one each to John Franklin and Sidmouth. John opened his and found clothes, moccasins, food, a good heavy knife, flint, steel, and some heavy string.
“How long have you been planning this,” John said, amazed.
“Ever since the first day,” Wallace said as he helped Sidmouth change his clothes. “I found the village’s supplies and I’ve been building this stash ever since.”
“Change quick,” Wallace said. “They’re not far behind.”
Part 45: Changing Direction
The boys ran north in the darkness, pushing through prickly holly thickets and leaping twisted brooklets and rills. With every step, Sidmouth’s eyes lightened as hope and determination replaced his sorrow. They followed John Franklin as he led them north, toward his Cherokee homeland, until Sidmouth grabbed John’s shirt and said, “Stop, we have to go west. We have to go west, NOW!”
“Why?” John asked in a hurry to keep going north.
“The spirits point west,” is all Sidmouth would say.
“That’s crazy,” Wallace said.
Not knowing why, John said, “Yep,” and led them west straight into an ambush.
Part 46: A Serendipitous Rescue
John Franklin and his fellow escapees were forced to march through the dark woods, each footstep landing with uncertainty as the twigs and rocks rolled with malicious intent. They were forced toward a small, hidden campfire. Many armed men stood around listening to an older, grey-hair as he gave them instructions.
“We found these three running from Snodon,” one of their captors said as they were pushed into the light.
John Franklin stumbled forward and squinted at the older man. “You were right, Sidmouth,” John Franklin announced. “West was the way to go.” He embraced the old man. “Hello Grandfather.”
Part 47: Sidmouth’s Nature
Wallace and John Franklin primed their cheap, borrowed English muskets as John Franklin’s grandfather, Red-hand, issued new battle-plans.
“You two will go with separate parties to ambush the warriors tracking you. Hit them from both sides and then quickly return. Do not go to Snodon and do not chase them when they run. We have what we want, so we will leave after persuading them that following us is unhealthy.”
Red-hand turned to Sidmouth and said, “If you were older, you could also go.”
Sidmouth look into Red-hand’s eyes and said, “I don’t like killing. I’ll stay here with you.”
Part 48: White Lies
Awinita danced up the paved street, practicing the new steps her teacher had just taught her. “Don’t you love this place,” she shouted as she and Jonas strode past the multi-story stone buildings that lined the streets of Tsuwa’tel’da.
“Yes,” Jonas answered without enthusiasm as he stared at the English houses and their porches, roofs, and shingles. “I don’t miss home at all.”
Awinita stopped turning and spinning and smiled knowingly at her brother. “We’re Tsiligi, Jonas. If it’s better, we make it ours. Even the Nunnehi do this.”
“Besides,” she laughed, “Warm houses and real feather beds are nice.”
Part 49: Desire Denied
Pol, Caster, and Goodie loaded their wagon as Avarice flew from perch to perch, squawking unwanted advice. Ayitah helped, even though she wanted Pol to stay. “It’s probably a good thing you are leaving,” she said to Pol. “This place is cursed, too many people are dying.”
“You could go with us to Tsuwa’tel’da,” he said, lifting a box over the sideboard.
“You could stay,” Ayitah countered. “Mother said you’d be welcome in the Bird Clan.”
Pol glanced at Castor and his white wolf and Ayitah quietly said, “Just you.”
“I promised Goodie we’d get her to Tsuwa’tel’da,” Pol answered.
Part 50: Any Port In A Storm
In the northwestern sky the clouds grew tall and dark, like tall dusky giants grappling for the setting sun, each hoping to win the mature, red prize. Lightning flashed and thunder rolled as the competing clouds crashed together. A splattering of fat raindrops assaulted Goodie, Pol, and Castor’s wagon as they traveled the road northwest, directly toward the coming storm.
Castor flicked the reins, “We’ll need shelter soon.”
“Will that do?” Goodie asked as she pointed to an old, ram-shackled cabin that was perched in a stand of trees just off the road.
“Any port in a storm,” Pol said.
Part 51: The Port
Goodie and the crow Avarice investigated the inside of the cabin as Pol and Castor secured the wagon and the oxen outside. There was a small lean-to built against the cabin that served their purposes.
Goodie found a small oil lamp just inside the door and used her flint and steel to strike a spark, lighting the lamp’s wick. The lamp’s light illuminated the cabin’s neat and furnished interior and Goodie quickly realized this cabin was not abandoned.
“Pol! Castor!” She yelled over the sound of the building wind. “This place isn’t abandoned! Someone lives here!”
“Lives here!” Avarice mimicked.
Part 52: Supper In The Cabin
“Who do you think lives here?” Goodie asked as she set the table.
“Not sure,” Castor answered as he helped with the plates and silverware. “I just hope they aren’t angry that we’re using their home.”
A bright flash of lightning, quickly followed by a boom of thunder rattled the cabin and the three refugees from the storm.
“Don’t think they’re going to be too upset,” Pol said as he placed the pot of steaming hot stew on the table. “Cherokee law requires them to help travelers in need, and right now, we needed to get out of that storm.”
Part 53: Going To Sleep
Goodie, Pol, and Castor bedded down in the surprisingly water-tight cabin, each of them refusing to use the only bed, instead they made pallets on the floor. Avarice, the crow, had escaped outside early and was perched in the maple tree outside.
Goodie lay next to the banked fire-place, enjoying the warmth as she listened to the rain-drops beat upon the wooden shingles.
“Do you think Avarice is safe outside?” she asked.
“Wolf is outside,” Castor said. “She’ll keep your crow safe.”
“Besides,” Pol interjected. “A little rain like this is just a friendly bath to those two, don’t worry.”
Part 54: Owners Return
A noise woke Goodie and she opened her eyes.
“We’ve got company,” an old woman’s voice whispered.
“Quiet, woman,” an old man’s voice whispered back. “The medicine keeps them asleep, but if you keep talking, they and their wolf may wake anyway.”
“Why don’t we just smother them and steal their hearts?” the old woman asked. “It would be easy.”
“That wolf outside is a spirit,” was answered. “She’d go straight to a medicine man and where would we be then?”
“What do we do?” Goodie heard.
“Pretend to be good Cherokee people,” was answered. “And hide that box, woman.”
Part 55: Keep Your Eyes Open
The early morning sun warmed Goodie’s face and she stirred, sleep leaving her reluctantly. The sounds of laughter and the stomach-growling aroma of hot cornbread and frying ham pulled her off her pallet and out the cabin door. Outside in the bright morning sun, wash cleaned by last night’s storm, she found Pol and Castor sitting on the wagon, eating and drinking as an ancient, smiling Cherokee couple served them breakfast.
“I see that the scent of breakfast has woken the sleepy chickadee,” the old man said.
“Goodie!” Pol greeted her. “Meet our hosts, Wood-Axe and Rabbit. They’ve made breakfast!”
Part 56: Danger Recognized
Goodie sat and chewed her crispy, hot bacon as she studied her hosts. Her head was still sleep-foggy and ached as a teasing memory from last night dodged her mental grasp. Goodie watched as Castor sat and joked with Wood-Axe as Rabbit fussed and urged him and Pol to eat more. She kept telling them that they needed to eat to grow big and strong. It sounded like something a doting grandmother might say, but the way her eyes glinted worried Goodie. Wood-Axe finally muttered “Quiet woman”, and the bacon turned to ash in Goodie’s mouth. She remembered last night.
Part 57: Goodie To The Rescue!
“Pol! Castor!” Goodie shouted. “They’re not Good Cherokee!”
They looked at her, confused and alarmed. “What do you mean?” Pol asked.
She pointed to Wood-Axe and Rabbit and said, “Last night I woke and heard them talking and I now remembered what they said.”
“Child,” Rabbit said as she shuffled towards Goodie. “It was a dream, just a silly dream.”
“No,” Goodie said. “You wanted to smother us and steal our hearts.”
“Steal our hearts?” Castor asked as his wolf growled.
“Fool woman,” Wood-Axe muttered and began chanting. Surprisingly, the ground reached up and slapped Goodie and the boys unconscious.
Part 58: No Time To Nap
“Wake them up, you said,” Rabbit bitched as she and Wood-Axe dragged the unconscious boys back into the cabin. “Feed them breakfast, you said. They’ll leave and never know what we are, you said.”
“Quiet woman!” Wood-Axe shouted as he flung Castor on a floor-pallet and turned to go and get Castor’s sleeping wolf. “How was I to know that girl heard us last night?”
Rabbit dropped Pol and followed Wood-Axe outside. “We should have smothered them like I wanted. So, do we kill them now?”
“Not yet,” Wood-axe answered. “We owe the Nun’yunu’wi and he likes his food fresh.”
Part 59: A Crow’s Frustration
Pain in her hand. There it is again. And again. Goodie opened her blue eyes and there was light. She turned her head and found herself back in the cabin with the door was open. She blinked.
Pain. On her hand. Again. And again. Angry, Goodie opened her eyes and it still light. Next to her hand was Avarice. “Get up,” he cawed. “Get up, get up, get up.”
“Okay,” she said and closed her eyes and slept. Outside noises reached Avarice’s sharp ears. Frustrated, he quickly flew outside and hid in the tree-tops and watched Wood-Axe and Rabbit return.
Part 60: Prelude to Running
The morning sun warmed her face, and Goodie Reynolds stretched and arched cat-like, fully rested and ready to go. Avarice, her mother’s crow flew in the opened window and lit next to her face and squawked, “Danger! Sleep! Sleep! Danger!” and he burrowed under her blanket and hid next to her body.
From outside a raven’s loud call sounded and then a very old man entered the cabin. Goodie closed her eyes tight and pretended to sleep. It was the witch Wood-Axe and she was being held in his cabin. She was in danger if he knew she was awake.
Part 61: Danger Leaving
The old man sat hunched in front of the fireplace and poked at the embers, his hands shaking with rage. Outside the cabin a raven called and the door flew open and the old woman walked in, refusing to look at the man.
“I didn’t lose it, it was stolen,” she said as she checked on the two boys and girl sleeping on the floor.
“It held six hearts,” he growled. “How many years would that be?”
“They’re three here,” she said.
“And they’re promised to the Nun’Yunu’Wi,” the old man said. “There is sickness at Tallulah, we’ll go there.”
Part 62: Time to Run
Wood-Axe grabbed his cloak and glared at Rabbit. “Check the food.”
The old woman leaned over and inspected the boys and girl and said, “They’re still sleeping. Your spell’s still working.”
“Good,” he said. “Now hurry, it’s a ways to Tallulah and I’m hungry.”
They left the cabin, grumbling and fussing. After several minutes, a crow poked his beak out from the blanket covering the girl and said, “Get up, get up, get up.”
Goodie stood up and looked at the boys and said, “Can we wake Pol and Castor?”
“Get help, save them,” the crow said. “Go to Chagee.”
Part 63: One Foot In Front Of The Other
Goodie hiked her skirt and ran. At home, she’d run the boys and girls into the ground at any race they’d challenge, but now it was important, so she stretched her legs and ran. Beside her flew Avarice and he kept cawing, “Run, run, run.”
“What kind of magician is Wood-Axe?” she huffed as she ran toward Chagee and safety.
“Bad,” Avarice said beside her ear.
“I know he’s bad,” Goodie said disdainfully. “I wish you were closer to Ma so you’d be smarter.”
“Smart enough,” Avarice said as he flew. “Run! Run! Run!”
Goodie saved her breath and ran.
Part 64: Goodie Runs
Goodie ran. One foot up and down and the pain made the tears flow and cut rivulets through the dirt and dust on her cheeks, but she ran. There wasn’t enough breath to cry, so she counted each step since her last fall. “2002! 2003! 2004!” she wheezed as she ran. Her legs were tired and each trip and fall was worse than the last. Her hands, knees and face carried the badges of dirt and blood, but Chagee was rescue for Pol and Castor, so she ran. “2010!” she hissed and up ahead she saw the cabins of Chagee.
Part 65: A Rescue
Goodie found herself and Avarice in the medicine woman’s lodge, her hurts and injuries being tended to by the women of Chagee as she was questioned by a grandfatherly old man.
“These people,” he said. “You say they had a box filled with hearts and were going to give you and your friends to Nun’Yunu’Wi?”
“Yes,” she answered. “And they kept us asleep by magic.”
“Anything else?” he asked.
“Raven! Raven! Raven!” Avarice screamed at the man.
“Yes,” Goodie said. “Just before they’d appear, a raven would call.”
“Get my bag,” the old man said sternly. “We have Raven Mockers.”
Part 66: An Old Man Prepares
Goodie was forced to sit well away from the old man as he prepared himself to confront the Raven Mockers.
“We’re wasting time,” she said for the third time. “Can’t that old man hurry up?”
“His name is Red-hand and he’s one of the few who knows the songs to defeat and kill a Raven Mocker,” the young man who was appointed her guardian said.
“But my friends are in danger,” she said.
“This has to be done if they are to be saved,” he answered. “Besides, Grandfather’s not that old. He saved me and my friends. He’ll save yours.”
Part 67: Northward
Goodie rode on a pony behind a red-haired boy named Wallace. Wallace and another English boy had been rescued along with Red-hand’s grandson, John Franklin. They and the warriors of Chagee rode north to rescue Goodie’s friends from the Raven Mockers. As they galloped north, a red-tailed hawk screamed and dived into an oak tree and burst through its branches, a raven gripped and dangling in its deadly talons.
“Look! A sign!” shouted John Franklin to the war-party. “Like that hawk, Red-hand will lead us to victory over the Raven Mockers!”
Goodie gripped Wallace tighter and prayed he was right.
Agasga is a medicine woman of the Blue Clan and has a 17 year old son, John Franklin “Tsiyi”. Agasga is full Cherokee and married Edward Adair. Edward died from a wound while logging. A tree fell on him breaking his back. She and John Franklin live in Cattoosee, which is on the upper Cherokee/Broad River, and southwest of Tsuwa’tel’da. Her father is Red-hand, a village elder and medicine man. She is gifted, like her father.
17 year old son of Jacob and Massie Reynolds. He is one of the gift, but has refused to allow his gift to find an ani-mage. Loves his little sister, but finds her to be a pain at times.
Awinita Goodsoil is 16 years old and gifted. She is of the Long-hair clan and her brother is Jonas Goodsoil, 18 years old. They are from the Lower Cherokee Town of Naguchee, which is close to the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. Naguchee is southwest of Usaee-Neya Mountain.
She and her brother travel to the lower settlement on Usaee-Neya Mountain, which leads to Tsuwa’tel’da.
She is beautiful and walks like a dancer born. She is gifted and her brother is her protector.
Castor is the younger fraternal twin of Pollux Brooks. Their Parents are Catherine and Robert Brooks. Catherine lives at Duett’s Corner with her father and his family and Robert lives at the Cherokee Town of Sennekaw. Castor is slight, blonde-hair and blue eyed. He is much more introverted and withdrawn. He feels ashamed that he has “stolen” his brother’s birth-rite, although Pol doesn’t feel the same. Pol is proud of his younger brother.
The Twins are of the Cherokee Wolf-Clan.
Forty-year old mother of Pollux and Castor. She is half Cherokee, her mother being of the Wolf-Clan, and her father being Scotts/Irish by adopted by the Wolf-Clan. She was wed to Robert Brooks, who is also half Cherokee, his mother being of the Red-Paint Clan. She divorced Robert soon after the twins were born and moved from Sennekaw back to Duett’s Corner, to be with her father and his people.
She had raised Pollux to be the one the Wolf chose, but was angered and disappointed when it was the weaker Castor.
God-Be-Good “Goodie” Reynolds is the 12 year old daughter of Massie and Jacob Reynolds. Her brother is 17 year old Armor-Of-God “Armie” Reynolds. She is a pretty, brown haired girl with dark brown eyes. Her father is also brown haired and brown eyed. Her mother is black-haired and blue-eyed.
Goodie likes books and stories and wants nothing more than to be a Spirit-Healer like her mother, unfortunately, she doesn’t have that gift. Her mother and father hear of the Cherokee Teaching City of Tsuwa’tel’da, for those who have the gift. Her brother, Armie, has the gift and is sent there to study. Goodie is sent with him, as brothers and sisters of the gifted are allowed to attend.
Avarice, the crow ani-mage of her mother, is sent with Goodie.
She and Armie join a wagon train of settlers who are moving to the Lower Cherokee Towns. The settlers have bought land there from the Cherokee and intend to start a school and grain mill there.
The 17 year old son of Agasga Adair. Was reluctantly learning the ways of medicine from his mother. Is also of the Blue Clan. The Creek and French had sent war parties north and attacked Cuttoosa and other Cherokee towns. They had learned of Agasga and her talented son and sent a kidnapping party to capture them both to force Red-hand to accede land to them. Agasga was able to use her spirit to help slay a French Capitaine, but it seriously injured her “ka”.
John Franklin became enraged and wanted vengeance, his grandfather wanted him to go to Tsuwa’tel’da to learn more about his gift. Instead, he joined a war-party heading south to Creek lands. His war party was defeated and he was injured and taken as a slave.
With a Creek medicine man, he is healed, but sold as a slave to the Creek Town of Snodon, which is close to Nodoroc, a place of death and evil. He meets Wallace McCracken and the brothers Torquay and Sidmouth Dean there. They are also slaves.
Tall, good-looking brother of Awinita. He is not gifted, but his is her protector. Is also of the Long-hair clan and wears his hair long, with braids and silver beads, just like his sister. Home place is Naguchee, which is southwest of Usaee-Neya Mountain.
Is a Spirit-Healer who lives along the Savannah River, just south of Fort Moore, which is close to the fort and town of Augusta. She is a Scotch/Irish Protestant who has two living children; Armor of God (Armie) Reynolds, age 17, and God-Be-Good (Goodie) Reynolds, age 12. Massie’s husband is Jacob Reynolds, who is a successful trader with the Cherokee, Creek, and White Settlers.
Massie is 36 years old and was taught to read and write by her father, who was a Learned-Man, in Scotland, She taught her children and husband how to read. Her father was also a Spirit-Healer.
Massie has an ani-mage in the form of a crow, named Avarice. The closer to her it is, the more intelligent it becomes, the further away, the more basic crow it becomes.
Pollux “Pol” Brooks is the 16 year old fraternal twin of Castor Broks. Pol is the oldest by 2 hours. He is also tall, dark, lithe, and good-looking. Big, friendly personality, who is always standing up for and protecting his younger brother, Castor. Both are gifted, but Castor was chosen by the wolf, which has extremely angered their mother, Catherine Brooks. Their mother, who is half Cherokee and of the Wolf Clan, lives with her father at Duett’s Corner in South Carolina.
Red-hand is the father of Agasga Adair and grandfather of John Franklin “Tsiyi” Adair. He is of the Deer Clan and his deceased wife was of the Blue Clan. He lives in Catoosa. He is a medicine man and passed his gift down to his daughter who passed it to her son.
Red-hand also leads a war party south to find a retrieve his lost grandson.
Robert is a tall, strong man with a full beard and long hair. He lives in Sennekaw with his Cherokee wife, Gagi. He is of the Red-Paint Clan, which is the clan of sorcerers and healers. He has the gift, same as Catherine’s father, so the boys got a double dose. He is a man of standing in Sennekaw.
Robert didn’t divorce Catherine, she divorced him, as Cherokee women can do.
He is the Zeus father-figure.
Sidmouth is a quiet, boy who sees spirits. It troubles him. Being an orphan, he depends upon his older brother Torquay to take care of them. They are abandoned on the docks of Savannah when their ship arrives, as their parents die on the trip over. Torquay leads them north, taking odd jobs when he can and stealing when he can’t. Torquay doesn’t allow any of the predators to get their hands on Sidmouth, so they are always moving North. They meet Ernie Coats who talks them into going west and helping him take trade goods to the Creeks. Ernie betrays them and sells them as slaves to the Creeks. Torquay dies as a sacrifice to the Wog and Sidmouth is left with no one.
Torquay is an orphan and the older brother of Sidmouth. Sidmouth is 14. Their parents were Protestants who sailed to Georgia from England and died on the trip over. All their possessions were confiscated/stolen by the Captain and the crew and they were forced off the ship in Savannah. They have slowly made their way North making money anyway they could, stealing/working and met up with Ernie Coats in Augusta Landing. Ernie takes them under his wing and has them help them move trade goods west to Snodon, where he sells them to the Creeks along with Wallace McCracken.
At Snodon, Torquay is sacrifice to the Wog at Nodoroc and dies.
Wallace is an orphan that lives around Fort Moore. His parents were killed by flu and he’s been living and stealing from around the Fort Moore area to survive. Captain Ross of the fort sentences him to hang for stealing, but Ernie Coats, a trader, buys out his sentence and makes him an indentured servant.
Ernie offers to teach him the ways of trading and takes him north to Augusta Landing and then east along the trade route into Creek Lands. Ernie finds and adds Torquay and Sidmouth Dean at Augusta Landing and takes them west to Snodon, where he sells them all into slavery to the Creeks.
Wallace his angry and untrusting. After being enslaved by the Creeks, he keeps trying to escape, even though he is beaten, repeatedly and harshly. The Creeks name him “Takes-A-Beating” for his willingness to be beaten, if it means he has a chance to escape.
Goodie was born and raised around Fort Moore, which is on the Savannah River. They are south of Augusta.
Goodie and Armie join the wagon train at Augusta, where they also meet their guides and guards that are taking the north to the Lower Cherokee Towns. They follow the trade route north to New Bourdeaux and then west to Fort Charlotte. From Fort Charlotte they go northwest until they get to and past the last English settlement of Pickens. Two days out of Pickens, the guides turn on the settlers and rob and kill them. Only Goodie and Armie escape. Armie shots one and stabs another, but he is gut cut.
They are saved by Pollux and Castor Brooks. They help them get to the Lower Cherokee Town of Chagee, where Armie dies from his gut wound.
Starts at Catoosa on the Upper Cherokee/Broad River. Head southwest to the Oconee River where he and a war party attack and lose to a Creek village. He is sold downriver to the Creek settlement of Snodon.
The boys arrive in Savannah and slowly make their way north along the Savannah River to Albercorn and then to Ebenezer, where Sidmouth and Torquay are baptized. From their they travel to Mount Pleasant and then to New Goettingen. From there they make their way North up the Savannah River to New Savannah and then Augusta, where they meet Ernie Coats. Ernie Coats takes them west along the trade route to a Creek town (Snodon) that sits between the Oconee River and Great Beaver Dam Creek. Here they stay for a while as slaves. Torquay dies.
They start at the mountain north of Duett’s Corner where Pollux is searching for Castor. Then South to Duett’s Corner, where their mother confronts them about Castor’s gift and how the wolf chose him, not Pollux. She sends them to their father in Sennekaw, who will tell them how to get to Tsuwa’tel’da.
They travel west, using paths when available to get to Sennekaw. Their father greets them and gives them gifts to help them finish their journey, including two extraordinary long rifles.
They follow the trade road south out of Sennekaw until it forks with the Cherokee Trade Road that runs Northwest to Southeast, and head NW. Soon they see smoke and investigate. They find a wagon train in ruins off the road and two rough men robbing and setting fire to a wagon. The men see them and shoot, the boys shoot back, killing the robbers. The wolf runs off and leads them to a girl, who is hidden in a thicket, with two more of the robbers stalking her. The girl and two boys fire at the same time, killing the robbers.
Pol and Cas help the girl and her wounded brother get to the Lower Cherokee Town of Chagee, which is on the way to Tsuwa’te’da. The brother dies there and Pol and Ca help bury him.
Wallace starts out at Fort Moore and heads north to Augusta Landing (Augusta City) with Ernie Coats. On the Lower Trade Path west of Augusta, Ernie brings in Torquay and Sidmouth Dean. They travel west until they get to the Creek village of Snodon, which is between the Oconee River and Big Beaver Dam Creek. He and the Dean’s are sold into slavery and stay there where they meet up with John Franklin Adair.
Original Blue Mountain Drabble Series
Contents copyright © Joel Byers
Web site copyright ©2007-2021 Shared Words
Illustrations copyright © R. Eric Smith and copyright © Carolyn Byers (as noted)
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