27 March 2011

#SampleSunday 16: Beneath The Shining Mountains Chapter 3 Pt1

 This week the story moves into Winter Man's perspective. To bring you up to date, to restore his bruised pride, Winter Man is joining a horse raid, but not content with stealing horses from the milling herd, he has vowed to steal a prized buffalo horse staked outside its owner's lodge, therefore putting himself in mortal danger....


When the sky had darkened and the stars were bright, the raiders left the comforts of their tipis and headed south. One of the village guards, a Muddy Hand whose society had been elected to the duty for a season, counted eight figures past him, eight figures and two dogs, but no horses. Although the men were leaving on foot, it was a certainty that they would be riding back. He smiled as he watched them, memories of raids he had been on springing easily to his mind. His smile faded. Not every raid was as successful as it might be. Sometimes events overtook those who had so meticulously planned them. Sometimes the results were disastrous. It would not hurt to sing for these men. It would not hurt at all. He raised his arms to the sky and called upon First Maker to watch diligently over his brothers.
Running Fisher called a halt at daybreak, as was his custom. Winter Man had been chosen to accompany him on three other occasions and he knew the reason for the delay lay in a taboo connected with his Medicine. Being a pipe-carrier, a leader, was a heavy responsibility. Not only did Running Fisher have to acquire enough booty for everyone on the raid, but he had to ensure that none of his followers was lost to the enemy. No matter how large the booty, no matter how many coups were taken, if Running Fisher lost a man he would be disgraced. No one would follow him again until he could persuade the people that his Medicine had regained its former strength. Every ritual, every taboo of that Medicine, had to be strictly adhered to. Their lives depended on it.
Since seeking his first vision when he’d been eleven springs old, Winter Man had wanted to be a Good Man and lead his own raids like his father and three of his grandfathers. Mystics had prayed over him. Wise men had counselled him. He was a Good Young Man now, as were many of his age, but would he ever gain the honours he needed to rise to leadership? He needed three major coups to be considered. He had gained only one, the taking of a gun from an enemy.
The man had been a Lakota, a member of a scalp-raid the previous summer. In the ferocity of the hand-to-hand fighting, the Lakota had pointed the weapon directly into Winter Man’s face. Perspiration beaded on his back as he recalled the moment. If that weapon had not misfired . . . If the powder had been dry . . . He threw aside the remembered hand of fear. That day his Medicine had been stronger than that of the Lakota. The weapon had misfired. He had taken a gun from the hands of an enemy and gained himself a coup. When he wore his best clothing, he wore the shirt with the locks of hair on the sleeves. Everyone knew what the decoration meant, even visitors from other peoples who had come to trade. He was recognised. He was a warrior. Two more coups and he would be a Good Man. He would carry the pipe on his own raids — if he could prove that his Medicine was strong enough so that others would follow him.
A cake of pemmican landed by his moccasin. He raised his eyes and found Hillside grinning at him.
‘Your thoughts are far away,’ his friend said. ‘Is it the horse you are wishing for, or the touch of that woman with the appealing dark eyes, the chaste one who cannot throw to save her life — or catch herself a husband?’
Winter Man smiled and broke off a piece of the foodstuff, but he didn’t reply to the taunt. He’d been the butt of repeated jokes since the day they’d returned from their hunting. Everyone in the village knew what had taken place when they’d met the root-diggers. If Hillside hadn’t spoken loudly of it, Frost had. There’d been no escape for him. He’d been so affronted by the woman’s attitude that he’d not recognised the exchange for the challenge it had been.
It had also left him in a delicate situation with Bear On The Flat. They were both members of the Fox society, Moon Hawk’s father being an elder. He wasn’t the sort of man to look upon lovers’ games with a ribald eye, especially if the woman in question was his daughter, yet he’d remained almost aloof, as if such antics were below his dignity — which, Winter Man supposed, they were for a man of his standing.
He lay full length in the sun-withered grass, turning Moon Hawk’s name in his mind. She certainly had the haughty look of a hawk. The way she had ignored him — he still couldn’t accept it without astonishment. If he’d counted correctly, there’d be a sliver of moon to guide their steps the next night. Perhaps it was an omen. He wished he’d made enquiries into how she had come by the name. Bear On The Flat might have given it to her at birth to commemorate some deed of his. She was, after all, his first daughter by that Piegan woman.
She, too, was chaste, he remembered. How many times had Bear On The Flat sat in the Fox lodge after the wife-stealing ritual and boasted of her chastity? No Lumpwood man had ever stood outside his tipi and called his Piegan woman out. He’d been married to her for so many years that no one could remember the number. Winter Man shook his head in incredulity at his thoughts. His own father had divorced seven wives. What would it be like to share the same bedding-robe with a woman for so long? What would it be like to have a wife?
He caught his musings, drew them up sharply like a runaway horse. He didn’t want a wife. Making Moon Hawk his wife was not even the challenge. To entice her into being his lover, that was the challenge, though even as he dwelled on it he was no longer sure. He’d had many lovers, had not regretted a single one, but none of them would ever be asked to notch the Sacred Tree at the height of the summer ceremonies. None of his lovers would ever know such an honour. Only the families of chaste women could carry that prestige, families with women like Moon Hawk.
‘Have you spoken to her yet?’
The voice of Skins The Wolf was terse and, unlike Hillside’s, devoid of all humour. Winter Man didn’t know what to make of him. He’d been like this for days now, scowling or silent. At times it was difficult to know which was the worse. Despite belonging to opposing warrior societies, they’d kept their childhood friendship. They were, after all, distantly related, not through blood as clan members, but through the marriage of one of their grandparents. Like a true brother, he’d been the first to offer to guard Winter Man’s back when he entered the Shoshone village.
‘Of course I've spoken to her,’ Winter Man replied, disdainfully waving his hand in the air. ‘She trembled at my very nearness, hiding her blushes behind a robe she held.’
‘Ha!’ Skins The Wolf threw back his head and scoffed. ‘That one would not tremble if she stood naked in the presence of First Man!’
Even as he heard the words, Winter Man felt his stomach lurch. All about him turned in horror to look at Skins The Wolf. How could he be so unthinking as to tempt the goodwill of First Maker at a time like this? They were about to enter an enemy village.
Winter Man looked across to Running Fisher. He was the pipe-carrier. If he felt the breach of respect was too severe, he would order them to hang their heads and return to the village empty-handed rather than risk their lives in a venture no longer sanctified.
Running Fisher sat for long moments with his pipe-bag in his hands. No one spoke. No one wished to interrupt his meditation. Older than his followers, wiser for his experience, they waited nervously for his judgment.
‘We go on,’ he said.
Everyone sighed with relief. Skins The Wolf stood and raised his hand to the rising sun.
‘However many horses I capture, I pledge half of them to the poor.’
Winter Man could hardly believe his ears. Half of them? If he’d been so foolish as to say such a thing, he would have pledged them all!
They ran on. There were no paths to follow, no markers to point the way, but from the angle of the sun and the individual peaks of the Shining Mountains ranging along their right-hand course, they knew they were leaving the hunting grounds of the Apsaroke and entering enemy lands. The dogs, brought by Otter Robe and Spider to carry food and spare moccasins, trotted gamely along, their tongues hanging out in the late summer heat.
The land undulated in increasing sweeps as the high plains buckled into the foothills of the mountains. The coarse grass, baked almost brown beneath the sun, gave way to willow and gorse and lodge-pole pine. Jackrabbits fled in panic before the jogging raiders. Prairie dogs screeched their high-pitched warnings and darted down their holes. A group of antelope stood and stared. The heavy-limbed buffalo ignored them.
Running Fisher had picked two scouts to sprint ahead and spy the land from distant hilltops. Hunts The Enemy and Frost had donned their wolf-skins with pride and raced on. Winter Man had been a wolf on four occasions and knew the excitement the first sighting of their quarry could bring. He hadn’t been asked this time. He was intending to gain a picketed horse, gain a recognised coup. Running Fisher had felt that was enough for him to concentrate on, and Winter Man had accepted the leader’s judgment and hidden his own disappointment. A man gained prestige in the eyes of his peers by discharging his duties well. The role of wolf carried prestige. A man was nothing without prestige. Only the men with the highest prestige, the highest war honours, only those men were asked to take the burden of their people upon their shoulders and become true orators.
The stars were growing bright in the eastern sky when one of the wolves was seen running back towards them. The jocular atmosphere of the little group changed at once. Something was amiss. They were another night’s journey from the area of the Shoshone village sites.
Hunts The Enemy eased his pace and the others crowded round him. His chest was heaving, but his words were not strained.
‘Bannock,’ he announced. ‘A party of five. They’ve killed themselves a buffalo-cow and are roasting her flesh over a small fire.’ His eyes rested on each man in turn. ‘They are young.’
Young meant inexperienced. Five. It was a number the eight Apsaroke would willingly take on. The thought passed through every mind.
‘They may not be alone,’ Running Fisher said.
‘Frost and I have watched them since noon. They played in a creek like women, splashing each other and singing songs. They smoked for a while, and chased buffalo just for the fun of seeing them run before cutting one out and killing it. It needed three arrows to bring it down,’ the wolf snorted contemptuously. ‘None of their number left to tell others of their kill. Frost circled round them, but found no sign of anyone else. They are alone.’
‘And asking to die,’ Spider added.
Hunts The Enemy nodded. ‘They have even let their horses wander.’
Winter Man didn’t know whether this development was a good thing or not. If they did attack the Bannock, the raid would end. There would be no Shoshone horses, no picketed horse to parade before Moon Hawk. There would, of course, be the chance of a grand coup, the touching of an armed enemy who was trying to kill the coup-taker. The prestige gained through that act was more than through the taking of a picketed horse, but he’d need both to be a Good Man. And what if he wasn’t quick enough? There were eight Apsaroke. Eight men attempting to take the same coup. Even if all of them succeeded, only the first to call the strike would be allowed to drag a wolf’s tail behind his moccasin. If Winter Man wasn’t the first, he’d have nothing.
He thought of Moon Hawk, of her dark, beguiling eyes gazing at him over the top of the buffalo robe that night she’d come out of the lodge. He thought of the contemptuous look she’d given him when they’d spoken at the root-digging. He, a Good Young Man, and she’d treated him shamefully in front of all those old women. If he didn’t return with a picketed horse as he’d promised, he would forever hear her laughter ringing in his ears.

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