Moon Hawk spent three anxious days watching for a sign of Winter Man, praying that he would show himself, fearing to turn round in case he stood there, looking at her.
‘He’ll do nothing so obvious,’ Little Face told her. ‘He’s a man, not a gawky youth. First he’ll make enquiries about you, and then he’ll watch you, but you’ll not see him until he wants you to.’
Moon Hawk tensed. ‘You mean, he could be watching me at this very moment?’ All along her back her flesh pricked and rose as if a hundred pairs of eyes were burning into her. She didn’t know which way to look.
Little Face chuckled. ‘Did you think he’d sit outside our lodge and play a courting flute for you? That you would be able to walk over to him and take his hand in yours? Did you think gaining Winter Man for a husband would be so easy?’
Moon Hawk averted her gaze. She hadn’t thought it would be easy at all, but, in truth, she hadn’t contemplated the difficulties, either. When her mother had offered her a chance of gaining her heart’s desire, she had jumped at it without noting how far that prize lay beyond her reach, or how far she might fall if she failed.
She set her jaw and raised her head. She wouldn’t fail. She was the woman for Winter Man — and she’d make him see it if it was the last thing she did.
‘I’m hungry.’ Bobtailed Cat wrinkled his brow and turned his face up to his elder sister towering so far above him. ‘I’m hungry,’ he repeated.
The heat had slipped from the land and the sky was paling ready for the onset of twilight. Moon Hawk eased the tumpline which secured the bundle of firewood against her back, and offered him her free hand. ‘Come. Mother will have a fine stew simmering on the fire and there will be roasted turnips if you are good.’
‘I’m always good!’
On their way back to the village, Moon Hawk spied a number of sticks dropped by another returning with firewood.
‘Can you hand me those?’
‘I am a man!’ Bobtailed Cat retorted indignantly. ‘I do not collect wood for fires. Do you want my friends to laugh at me?’
Moon Hawk altered the weight of her load and carefully bent low enough to pick up the sticks. ‘You’ll have to fetch firewood when you go on your first raid, and water, too, or the Good Young Men who take you will chase you back to the village and sing derisory songs about you outside our father’s lodge.’
Bobtailed Cat hung his little head, and muttered to himself. ‘I am not a woman!’
Moon Hawk smiled indulgently at him. The years slipped by so quickly. Already he was acutely aware of what was expected of him. Soon he’d be bringing a rabbit to the lodge, triumphant in his first kill. It would be a buffalo calf next, and then . . . She sighed. In no time at all he would be riding with the men. Would she be a wife then? Winter Man’s wife? A smile burned away any disturbing doubts. She’d have young sons of her own by that time, and would be telling them that collecting firewood was no work for a man!
Just outside the outer edge of the village another encampment had sprung up, and though the tipis were much smaller and far fewer in number, it was the same in most respects. Older girls were cooking over small fires, pretending to be wives and mothers. Some had little cradleboards on their backs, and carried dolls made from deer-skin stuffed with buffalo hair. Others trailed younger siblings with them, claiming them to be their offspring. One girl even had her pony picketed by her half-size lodge and was proudly showing the rest that she was more than capable of handling a horse-travois, the large triangular drag-frame a woman used to transport her family’s belongings. Not to be outshone, other girls had made themselves smaller versions to be harnessed to the wolf-like dogs which roamed the village.
Bobtailed Cat pulled back on Moon Hawk’s arm. ‘We’re not going over to them, are we?’
‘Your sister may well be hungry, too.’
Bobtailed Cat curled his lip. ‘She’ll want me to be her son again.’
‘I don’t think so. It’s too late in the day.’
Turtle saw them approach and ran to meet them. ‘Look!’ she called, waving a long stick on which were skewered several pieces of meat. ‘Snow Rattle brought these for me to cook for him. I am his lover!’
Moon Hawk noticed her sister’s beaming face and decided not to be too harsh in her reprimand. ‘It’s better that you be a chaste woman when you grow. You’ll gain much respect.’
Turtle shrugged her shoulders. ‘It’s more fun having a lover. I can ride on the back of Snow Rattle’s pony when the boys have a victory parade.’ Her expression became more serious, Snow Rattle and his pony forgotten. ‘Do you think father will give me another pony to replace the one the Shoshone stole?’
‘I don’t see why not. If you help Mother, and you do as our father wants the first time of asking, you’ll show that you are worth being given another pony.’
Turtle nodded, deep in her thoughts. Angrily, she kicked at a clump of withered grass. ‘I hate those Bad Lodges! Stealing my pony . . .’
‘Yours was not the only horse stolen,’ Moon Hawk reminded her.
‘I don’t care! I’d dance with their scalps if one was given to me!’
Moon Hawk raised a disparaging eyebrow. ‘You are hardly likely to be offered a scalp just because your horse was stolen; besides, no one was killed in the raid, so I doubt the Good Young Men will be riding for scalps.’
‘I’ll not be offered one of the horses they bring back, either,’ the girl muttered.
‘I’ve told you, if you are good, father will give you another. We’re returning to the tipi to eat. Are you coming?’
Turtle shook her head and moodily stalked away, trailing the skewered meat behind her.
‘No man will take her as a lover,’ Bobtailed Cat said. ‘She grumbles too much.’
Moon Hawk laughed out loud and took his hand in hers again. There were times when her youngest brother talked so much older than his years.
Winter Man! It was Winter Man, there was no mistake. He was sitting astride his dappled grey racer in the space between the two villages. He had come. He had come!
She drank in the sight of him as if he was the only sweet water in the vastness of a salt desert. How imposing he looked, dressed in his warrior society regalia. She’d seen him in it on many occasions, but this time she knew he was wearing it for her. There was a dignity in his bearing, in the way he carried the russet fox-skin cape over his broad shoulders. His leggings, too, were not of the usual elk-skin, but were made from scarlet cloth expensively bartered from the hairy-faced traders to the north. Across his back was slung the finest otter-skin bow-case any man possessed, and cradled in his arms was a cut-down powder-gun, a single black-tipped eagle feather fluttering from the end of its shortened barrel. He was showing her his possessions, that he lacked for nothing, that he was a man who had the courage to take whatever he wanted; that he could — and would — take her if he so wished.
The racer lifted its forelegs in turn, tired of remaining so still. Winter Man calmed it with the lightest touch of his antler riding quirt, but it had altered its stance enough for Moon Hawk to see more of Winter Man’s face. He had been painted vermilion and yellow; his arms, too, banded in the same favoured colours of the Fox society. Like an angry thunderhead, his dark hair spread out behind him, the sun glinting off each oiled lock as if feathers in a raven’s wing. And there she was with twigs in her wind-blown hair and a great bundle of sticks on her back! Oh, why come now? Why now!
Bobtailed Cat pulled on her arm. ‘Are we going?’
Moon Hawk felt a trembling in her legs. She would have to walk by Winter Man. What should she say? How should she act? Her stomach tied itself in a hundred knots. If there had been another way to go she would have taken it, but there was no other way. That was the reason he was there. That was the reason he’d chosen the moment, the only moment of the day when she was tired and dishevelled. Her indignation began to mount — and then she realised something else. He was not looking at her. He wouldn’t look at her, he wouldn’t even speak to her as she passed him. He was parading himself for the prized catch that he knew he was. The conceit of the man! Flaunting himself before her so that he could watch her drool over him. She’d show him. She’d walk straight by him and not even notice his horse!
Clutching her brother’s hand, she headed towards the gap between the two nearest tipis where Winter Man and his grey racer stood as still as wooden carvings.
‘And what have you been doing all day?’ she asked of Bobtailed Cat in a loud voice.
He answered her, but she heard no more than a low murmur in the background of her noisy thoughts. Winter Man had painted his horse with his war honours so that she might be reminded that he was a man of valour. She could see hoofprints painted in red in an arc on its shoulder, telling of the many successful horse raids he’d been a party to. There were black lines signifying the secondary coups he’d gained, and red dots to indicate the number of times he’d been wounded during engagements.
She was close to him now, not four paces away, and still his gaze hadn’t so much as flickered in her direction. Curse the man!
‘And have you enjoyed yourself?’ she asked her brother.
What was that smell? Could it be . . . It was! Winter Man had rubbed himself with some mixture of herbs, the way lovers did, he was so sure of himself. She put a spring into her step and raised her chin a little higher as she drew level and passed him.
Bobtailed Cat slowed, pulling on her arm, turning to look at the adorned warrior, his little face full of questions.
Do not say a word! Moon Hawk pleaded. Not now, please!
‘Why is Winter Man sitting there like that?’
Moon Hawk felt her heart turn over. If she didn’t answer him he would make a fuss, but whatever she said would be heard by Winter Man. She pulled her wits about her and tried to make the tone of her voice sound as cutting as possible. ‘Who?’
Bobtailed Cat pulled hard on her arm and pointed behind them. ‘Winter Man!’
There was no other course now, Moon Hawk realised. She’d have to acknowledge that she’d seen him. Slowly, she turned round and looked behind her. As she had expected, his eyes were not on her, but she made a great display of looking him up and down, just in case he could see her out of the corner of his eye. She curled her arm about her brother’s shoulders and began to lead him away.
‘I really have no idea,’ she told him loudly. ‘Perhaps he’s hoping to entice some man’s wife. I hear it’s a favourite pastime of his.’
The sound of the snort was unmistakable, and to Moon Hawk’s practised ears it did not come from Winter Man’s horse. She didn’t look back, though, but kept walking, a smile of satisfaction lighting her face. She might have instigated this odd courtship, but Winter Man was going to have to fight harder than that to take her.
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