Here is the next part of Beneath The Shining Mountains. Enjoy! And if you do, leave a comment and/or Tweet. I appreciate it.
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.
She saw him again on each of the two following days. His approach was more measured, more subtle. The first time he was standing outside a neighbour’s lodge discussing the relative merits of different saddle girths; the second he was washing down one of his notched-eared buffalo-horses in the creek when she went to refill the water-paunch. He did not look towards her on either occasion, and she did not look at him, but she knew he was only there because of her, and it filled the rest of her day with song.
‘How long do you think this will go on?’ she asked Little Face.
The older woman shrugged. ‘It’s hard to say. Until he tires of it, I suppose.’
‘Tires of it!’ Moon Hawk was beside herself. ‘You mean, until he loses interest?’
‘Oh, there’s no chance of that. You threw him a challenge in front of his friends. Even if he wanted to ignore you they wouldn’t let him. You know what men are like. They make up the most derisive songs about each other for the most insignificant of causes. It’s his reputation as a wooer of women which is being put to the test here. If it should be seen to fail him . . .’ Little Face chuckled to herself. ‘The longer you can keep him at arm’s length, the more chance you have of keeping him for good. You must give him no encouragement — not any.’
Moon Hawk felt a twinge of dejection. Winter Man was being heedful of her only because of a dare. She’d known it from the start, but it seemed harsh put so blatantly, so bound to failure. She carried on waiting, seeing him each day and ignoring his presence, until something happened that made her feel the sky had fallen in on her world.
She ducked into the lodge, almost tripping over the raised threshold in her hurry to be inside. Little Face looked up from the porcupine-quill embroidery she was working on.
‘He’s out there,’ Moon Hawk stammered, ‘sitting under a sunshade with Swallow in his arms. They are laughing and talking and . . . and he is kissing her and . . .’
‘You should not have even seen them. If you have carried on like this in front of Winter Man’s eyes, you will have lost everything. He’s wily. This is a test to see how you react.’
Moon Hawk let her gaze fall in her despair. Swallow. She was tall and lithe and beautiful. And she was lying in Winter Man’s arms.
Moon Hawk watched her mother cross to the doorway and lift the flap to peep outside. Little Face turned back to her, her eyes alight with excitement.
‘Two can play at this game! Grind meat ready for making into pemmican for the winter. Work diligently outside the lodge under our sunshade and be most courteous to all who come to speak with you. Remember that.’ Before her daughter could ask any questions, Little Face stepped out of the lodge.
Moon Hawk collected the items she’d need from behind her mother’s back-rest, and with a deep breath to steel herself, slipped out of the low opening of the tipi. Winter Man was still sitting under that same sunshade with Swallow. They had been joined by Hillside and his wife, and all four were laughing together and eating choke-cherry rounds. Moon Hawk studiously ignored them and set out the utensils of her labour beneath her own lodge’s sunshade. She laid a piece of dried buffalo meat on the flat stone pounding-dish and started hammering at it with the maul until it crumbled. Tipping the pulverised meat into the centre of a clean skin, she began her work again. Laughter drifted to her across the heat-haze; the deep, gusty laughter of the men, of Winter Man. Moon Hawk did not look up, but try as she might, she could not ignore it.
A shadow crossed her hands and she raised her eyes to find one of her more elderly clan-grandmothers standing there, kneading her thigh with the heel of her palm. From the other hand dangled an empty water-paunch.
‘Moon Hawk,’ the old woman said in a loud voice, ‘the young girls have gone swimming and left no water in the lodge. They have no mind for their duties. My leg pains me. Would you stop your work and fetch water for your grandmother?’
Moon Hawk stared first at the old woman’s odd stance and then at her tired and care-worn face. She had seen her grandmother not half a day ago, cursing ferociously and running after a dog which had stolen a length of the sausages she’d been making. What could she possibly have done to her leg in so short a time? She was about to ask when her perception cleared. There was nothing wrong with the woman’s leg, nothing wrong with it at all.
Moon Hawk rose to her feet, her face full of concern. ‘Of course, grandmother. You seem tired. Rest here awhile. I’ll bring you a fan to cool yourself.’ She helped the old woman to lower herself on to the robe she had made her seat, and ducked into the lodge to retrieve her own hawk-wing fan.
‘Here, grandmother,’ she said. ‘I’ll not be long.’
‘You are a good grandchild, Moon Hawk. Many look with favour upon you. You never desert your work.’
The old woman’s voice boomed out far beyond the reach of her own ears. Winter Man would have had to have been deaf not to have heard every word. Moon Hawk skipped down to the stream, unashamedly laughing all the way.
She had no sooner settled herself back to grinding the buffalo meat than Turtle arrived at her side. The young girl thrust a boy-doll purposefully beneath her sister’s nose.
‘Hail In His Eyes has been on a horse-raid and has counted a grand coup on a Lakota warrior,’ she announced loudly. ‘But I’ve nothing to blacken his face with in honour of the deed.’
Moon Hawk suppressed a smile, and told her sister that she would find something. She brought out a piece of charred wood from the lodge’s fire-pit and offered it to Turtle.
‘You do it,’ she ordered, and offered the doll to Moon Hawk’s hands. Moon Hawk blackened all of his face as any returning warrior would to announce that he had taken the coup, and handed back the doll.
Turtle looked at her sister’s handiwork and nodded her approval. ‘We should salute him for his bravery,’ she said in earnest.
‘Of course we should,’ Moon Hawk agreed, and the pair threw back their heads and trilled loudly for the doll the way any woman would for a man who’d risked his life in the gaining of a coup.
As Turtle ran back to her friends, Moon Hawk risked a glance in the direction of the other sunshade. Swallow was talking gaily, but, by the look on his face, Winter Man had no ears for what she was saying. Caught by a streak of sunshine flooding through a gap in the cut boughs above his head, his eyes were narrowed against the glare, his steady gaze only for Moon Hawk.
She turned quickly, picking up the maul to continue with her work. She hoped that he had not noticed her glance, but her heart sang just the same. She would win him. She knew, now, that she would win him in the end.
Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear from you, so drop me a line.