How this came to be written is interesting in itself. I'd written a British Mediaeval romance Hostage of the Heart, which had won an award, and was all set to follow it up with a different aspect of the same period, the last successful invasion of Britain in 1066. I was still learning my way at this point, and all I'd ever read emphasised that writers should get at least four books from the inordinate amount of research needed to write a historical. That notion was dismissed over lunch with the editor... 'You've done Mediaeval. What else have you got? How about a Regency?'
Now, I don't know about you, but if I was so enamoured by the Regency period I would have thought that's what I would have delivered to begin with, not a Mediaeval. Anyway, there she was, looking expectant, and I had to come up with something. What did I know about? The daily life of northern plains peoples, 1750-1850. I gave talks on it. I was a re-enactor.
Her eyebrows hit her hairline. 'That's a Western!'
I'm not entirely sure what I said after that - we'd had wine - but I clearly recall her backing into her chair with hands raised saying, 'Okay, okay, write it and we'll take a look.'
It sold 30,000 copies in paper, with its then awful title and appalling cover, but was never published in the USA. When I was able, I took back my rights, indie authoring it last year with a much better title. I'm still not overjoyed with the cover, but it is selling well in the USA. As I write, it's #31 in Native American. Enjoy this opening excerpt.
‘. . . but other women my age have a lover.’
‘No man of standing will bring horses to the lodge of a woman who’s had lovers. You know this. So do they.’
Moon Hawk stopped scraping the clinging fat from the pegged buffalo hide and sat back on the heels of her moccasins. She eyed her mother irritably. ‘At least they are happy. At least they aren’t ridiculed for still being a maiden.’
Little Face did not falter in the rhythm of her work, nor did she raise her eyes from the skin. ‘Who’s teasing you? Other young women? They’re jealous. They know what they’ve let slip through their hands. Is it the young men who tease you? They’re showing interest. They see in you the makings of a wife, a woman for whom they would bring horses to the lodge of your father.’
Moon Hawk slapped down her elk-horn scraper, losing grip of her rising annoyance. ‘Tease me? I would need a love-charm for them even to notice me!’
Sighing, her mother raised her eyes from her work. ‘You exaggerate beyond belief. If you stopped scowling, your true beauty would be seen by all. Your nose is straight, your eyes bright. Your skin is soft, and unmarked by the spotting sickness which killed many during your childhood.’
Little Face straightened her bent shoulders and raised her chin. ‘My lack of height did not deter your father.’
Moon Hawk was about to point out the dissimilarity of their situations but drew back. Bear On The Flat had never taken horses to her mother’s lodge. She was not an Apsaroke, but born of their enemies, the Piegan. He’d captured her on a raid and carried her back in triumph as his personal property.
Because her mother rarely spoke of her life before being brought to the Apsaroke village, Moon Hawk didn’t mention it, either. On the few occasions that she had, Little Face had merely smiled and said, ‘I was happy there. I am happy here.’ At times, it was difficult to know what she truly meant.
Moon Hawk dropped her gaze, embarrassed that she should even think of parading her mother’s past before her, but, as always, Little Face seemed naturally attuned to her daughter’s thoughts.
‘It’s true,’ she admitted, ‘your father didn’t bring horses to my lodge.’ A wry smile crossed her face. ‘My father and brothers would have scalped him on the spot if he had! But that doesn’t mean that he thinks any less of me. Bear On The Flat has had me as his wife for nineteen winters, come the snows.’ She threw her hands up in the air in a show of mock amazement. ‘It’s almost unknown for an Apsaroke to have a wife for so long. His joking relatives taunt him about it, I know, but he just smiles in return. I’ve borne him five children, two healthy sons before you, and none of you has lacked for love, or anything a mother can give.’
She paused a moment, a proud and wistful look filling her eyes. ‘Your father is of the Fox society. On eight occasions has he abducted a former lover during the wife-stealing ritual — eight occasions — but how many Lumpwood men have stood singing songs outside our lodge wanting me to go with them? None! Not a single one. I’ve been faithful to Bear On The Flat. I’ve never made his heart sad. That’s why I’m still his wife. That’s why he will never divorce me. If, when the time comes, you can say the same about your husband . . .’ She left the rest unsaid, but her meaning was plain enough.
Moon Hawk worked on, trying to be convinced, but it was difficult.
‘He’s not the only eligible young man in this village,’ Little Face reminded her.
‘No,’ Moon Hawk admitted — but Winter Man was the one she wanted.
Tall, slim, handsome in features and in dress, Winter Man had the courage of the cougar and the cunning of the coyote. He, too, was a member of the esteemed Fox warrior society. He’d gained a number of battle honours, counting a minor coup on two occasions, once by being the third to touch a living enemy, and the other by being the second to touch a newly-killed enemy without enraging the dead man’s ghost; but his most important coup had been gained the previous year in the taking of a gun from a Lakota warrior during a skirmish outside the village. In recognition of this act he was eligible to wear a shirt with hair-lock pendants ranged along the sleeves.
How he had worn that shirt! As she recalled, the only time he’d taken it from his back had been during the communal ablutions performed each morning at the creek. Their families shared the same stretch of water. She’d often glanced at him, willing him to look her way. But he never had.
His initial flush of triumph had passed some time ago, and he didn’t flaunt the shirt now, except on festive occasions when all the men wore their war honours and proudly told of the actions in which each had been gained. Moon Hawk had dreamed about that shirt. If she’d been a female relative — or Winter Man’s lover — she would have donated a lock of her own hair to hang from its sleeves, and walked with him when he’d worn it to bask in his glory. Because he was a man with war honours, he carried the title of Good Young Man, and was openly praised by his elders at feasts and celebrations. With more coups to his credit, especially a grand coup, he’d become a Good Man and lead his own raids against enemies of the people.
There were other things she liked about him, subtle things. He was generous. That was always well regarded in a man. He owned many fine mounts, and regularly gave one away as a gift to someone less fortunate than himself. He was well skilled, too, in racing horses, wrestling and the intricate dart-through-the-hoop game. With his handsome face and keen sense of dress, he was the answer to a maiden’s prayer. The problem, Moon Hawk acknowledged, was that he knew it and took good advantage of his fortune. He was hardly ever to be seen without some youthful beauty in his arms. What man needed a wife when he had so many lovers?
She attacked the buffalo-skin with such purpose that her mother threw up her hands in dismay.
‘Enough! Enough! I’ll not have this robe damaged for the wishing of a man.’
Moon Hawk hung her head, her eyes misting in spite of her efforts to control her despondency. ‘I’m sorry, Mother. I’m unworthy.’
Little Face gazed at her daughter for several moments before returning her attention to the large hide. She stroked its damp surface with her fingertips, gripping and re-gripping the fleshing tool in her other hand, but she didn’t attempt to work the skin.
‘I— I’ve not mentioned this,’ she began, ‘but two days ago I had an enquiry about you from the mother of Skins The Wolf.’
Moon Hawk felt the small hairs prickle on the nape of her neck. ‘Skins The Wolf?’
‘Yes. He’s a member of the Lumpwood warrior society, I believe. He has coups to his name, is young, of a good family . . .’
Moon Hawk didn’t need to be told of his background. She knew of Skins The Wolf. Often in the company of Winter Man, he’d looked at her on more than one occasion. In her mind she could see him now, his steady charcoal eyes burning into her.
‘I don’t like him,’ she said quickly. ‘I don’t like his smile.’
It was a childish reply, she realised, one that would be cast aside with a derisive flourish of her mother’s hand, but how could she put into words what was only a feeling? It was true that Skins The Wolf was of a good family. He was brave. He had gained honours and the respect of older men. He had lovers, of course, as was expected of a man who had gained a war honour, but he was discreet. He didn’t parade them as Winter Man did his. There was no specific reason for her to feel the way she did about Skins The Wolf, but a look from him made her flesh crawl. She didn’t like him.
Instead of admonishing her daughter, Little Face seemed relieved. ‘Hearing you say that takes a great weight from my shoulders, for I took it upon my own judgement to refuse the advance.’
Moon Hawk was astonished. ‘You didn’t discuss it with Bear On The Flat?’
Little Face shook her head. ‘Your father already knows, I can sense it, but he’s said nothing. He’ll be waiting for me to broach the subject.’
‘Won’t he be angry with you?’
‘He has every reason. I should have consulted him.’
Moon Hawk let the scraper slip from her fingers and stretched out her hand to comfort her mother. ‘Why didn’t you talk to him first?’
‘I didn’t wish you to go to Skins The Wolf.’
Moon Hawk shrugged, unable to perceive her mother’s concern. ‘But I don’t wish to go to Skins The Wolf. Father would never force me to marry someone I didn’t want.’
‘You don’t understand, Moon Hawk. Your father and the father of Skins The Wolf have always been close. Years ago, when Bear On The Flat was unhorsed during a fight, Fire Club saved his life by riding back and taking him up behind his saddle. Your father has always felt that debt. I was afraid that he might insist on the marriage.’ She paused, as if a great pressure of air was trapped in her chest, cramping her words. ‘I couldn’t take that chance.’
Moon Hawk held her peace. There was more to this than one man risking his life for a friend. She watched her mother bite her lip. She wouldn’t raise her eyes.
‘When your father took me from my people, I wasn’t alone. I was with a clan-sister. She was taken by Fire Club. He didn’t treat her well, and the first winter we were here she walked out into a blizzard. She preferred death to being with him. Skins The Wolf was very small then, but he’s grown, and he has the look of his father.’ Her head fell forward, her voice fading to a whisper. ‘I didn’t want you to go to him.’
Moon Hawk gazed at her mother, not knowing what to say. Little Face had never spoken of this clan-sister before. She wasn’t sure what she could do. And then she knew.
‘Even if Bear On The Flat insists, I will not go to Skins The Wolf,’ she declared. She straightened her back, more determined than ever. ‘It’s Winter Man that I want for my husband, and I’ll have no other.’
Little Face brushed a tear from her cheek and forced herself to raise her head and smile. ‘If that’s your final decision, we must see that it is brought about, and as soon as possible, I think.’
Thankful to be able to draw her mother from her haunting memories, Moon Hawk openly guffawed. ‘First Maker has touched you with the sun! Winter Man doesn’t know I exist. If you go making advances to his family on my behalf, he’ll laugh so loudly that we’ll die of shame.’
Little Face inclined her head in that manner she used when she knew she was about to win a large cache at dice. ‘There are many elk for the hunter to take, yet he invariably concentrates on the one that defies him.’
‘Defies him? Winter Man doesn’t even see me!’
‘Then we must make him see you.’
Moon Hawk felt a tingling expectation begin to climb her spine. ‘How?’ she whispered.
‘There are ways.’
By necessity there's a lot of scene-setting and foreshadowing in the first half of this chapter, giving a glimpse of a society akin but not matching our own. Mindful of the misplaced "Western" label the editor had automatically attributed to it, I also had the task of dispelling stereotype myths. The second part of chapter 1, when we'll see if Winter Man lives up to Moon Hawk's rosy view of him, will be posted next Sunday.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment, and if you enjoyed the excerpt please Tweet with the #samplesunday tag.