|Written by:||Lisa Godin (bio, contact, other stories)|
|Story type:||Serial Fiction|
|Location:||Cleveland Ohio USA|
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|Written by:||Lisa Godin (bio, contact, other stories)|
|Story type:||Serial Fiction|
|Location:||Cleveland Ohio USA|
War chief and expert horse breaker Et-esh, busy brushing her buckskin, ignored the foot steps of her best friend, Shesh-Amazoni Ohnaà padding up behind.
"You are planning a trip, young one."
Ohnaà stroked the buckskin's sooty nose.
"Only when you groom a horse until it glistens do I know you prepare for a trip."
Et-esh ceased her brushing and grinned.
"I go for more wild horses."
Ohnaà shook her head in wonder.
"You are obsessed! You crowd too many horses in the corral already, and still you need more. Perhaps you should sell what you have to Outsiders to make room for these new horses of yours."
Et-esh scowled finding no humor in Ohnaà's suggestion.
"Ah yah! Other than Trader Jo-teff Outsiders are no friends of mine. I would sooner sell my horses to Shesh and Ossit before I'd sell to traders and trappers."
Et-esh bridled her sleepy-eyed buckskin.
"Will you steal every warrior in camp for your round up?"
"I need only Cho-hot and her sister, Hoshkeen."
Cho-hot and Hoshkeen reined up at the corral gate.
"Hurry, Et-esh," Cho-hot called, "the day grows old."
The war chief vaulted onto her buckskin.
Ohnaà seized the horse's bridle, her black eyes mirroring concern for her impulsive friend. "This quest of yours for more horses will be your undoing, young one," she said.
"It is the danger that gives me purpose, Ohnaà. Besides, I have my reputation to uphold. Where would I be as a mighty horse breaker if I kept only grandmother horses?"
"Et-esh!" Cho-hot scolded.
"Heed my advice, young one. Lately trappers and traders find excuses to battle us. Avoid them."
"I will remember."
"Et-esh we are leaving without you," an impatient Cho-hot shouted, signaling Hoshkeen to follow.
Grinning, Et-esh kicked her horse hard jumping it over the corral gate in hot pursuit of her friends.
It was then Ohnaà discovered Et-esh's forgotten bow and quiver. Picking them up, she shook her head at the settling dust cloud of the riders. Preoccupied with horses Et-esh was always forgetful. Ohnaà didn't dwell on the matter. Et-esh was well able to defend herself, and her impulsive resourcefulness had come to her aid on more than one occasion. Ohnaà went to Et-esh's tepee to drop off the bow and quiver, resting them atop her bridles and halters, then headed for the council lodge for her daily meeting
The resting Amazoni trio of Et-esh, Cho-hot and her sister, Hoshkeen laughed and joked. Hoshkeen stood up to better act out a joke and was suddenly slammed to the ground, an arrow buried deep in her chest.
Leaping to her feet Cho-hot unshouldered her bow and notched an arrow, followed by Et-esh who drew her knife. Neither warrior saw their ambusher amid their grassland and boulder-littered bivouac. Et-esh kneeled beside Hoshkeen staring up with sightless eyes, the arrow in her chest of unidentifiable make.
Seemingly appearing from nowhere, the Trader, roaring like the long-toothed cat, rushed Cho-hot, knocking her in the temple with the butt of his crossbow felling her to the ground with a grunt.
Glittering knife itching her sweaty palm, Et-esh glared at the Trader in broad-brimmed hat, shoulder-length auburn hair, stained boar skin jacket and trousers, and shiny black boots. Trader lowered his crossbow.
Crouching, cautiously padding closer, her grip tightening upon her knife, Et-esh nodded.
"You're a big one."
A low growl rumbled in Et-esh's throat as she approached closer, warily eyeing the alien crossbow.
"You speak Trader?"
How odd, Et-esh thought. This Trader, launching an unprovoked attack, was concerned not with killing a warrior, knocking out another and facing her, but with whether she spoke his language. Stupid! But everything Traders did was stupid. "I speak your words," she growled, creeping closer.
"Good, horse thief."
"This day I look for wild horse, not yours."
Et-esh leaped upon the man, her attack causing his crossbow to fly from his hands and slamming him to the ground. Straddling Trader, she pressed her knife to his throat, ceasing his struggle.
Blood oozing from her temple, unable to speak, Cho-hot regained consciousness.
Standing, Et-esh kicked Trader in the ribs.
"You fight without honor. Your life is not worthy of me to take."
She delivered another kick to Trader. Kneeling beside Hoshkeen's body, she sheathed her knife, intending to lift her.
Painfully, Trader, rock in hand, crept behind Et-esh.
Cho-hot attempted a warning, but no sound escaped her. She watched helplessly as Et-esh was knocked unconscious.
"You're coming with me, Amazoni. I'll teach you to steal my horses." Trader dragged Et-esh to his horse, hefting her over the beast's white back. "You're a heavy savage, too," he breathlessly mumbled.
Cho-hot watched Trader collect his crossbow and hook it to his belt, kneel beside her sister and spitefully slit her throat. Crying silently she watched her laughing enemy lead his horse with its cargo of Et-esh slung over into the long grass, not realizing he was leaving a trail any experienced Amazoni tracker could follow. Cho-hot's last thought was of Ohnaà before she descended into the black pit of unconsciousness.
Cho-hot awoke late the next morning, ignoring her intense headache from Trader's blow. Crying, she staggered to Hoshkeen's body. Screaming her sister's name over and over, she sank weakly to her knees. Cradling the young warrior's head and shoulders in her lap, she wept, rocking back and forth, cursing the Trader who killed her sister and taking Et-esh, cursing the spirits for allowing it. It was a long time before she cried herself dry, feeling numbed and drained.
Before she could return to the Amazoni there was one last thing she needed to do. Drawing her knife, Cho-hot dug until she had a small mound of earth. From her belt she untied her water gourd and poured water upon it mixing it into black mud with her knife. Cutting off a lock of flaxen hair, she buried it, then sheathed her blade. Stripping to the waist, Cho-hot smeared her face, neck and chest with the mud of mourning. Only after the mud chipped and faded would she cover herself or engage in battle. But her mourning restrictions did not prohibit her revenge from being carried out. She would talk to council where she would charge Ohnaà with avenging Hoshkeen's murder in addition to rescuing Et-esh. Ohnaà, as leader of the Amazoni, would give her word before council to return with Trader's heart and scalp to burn assuring Hoshkeen's arrival into the spirit land. Until then, Hoshkeen's spirit would roam aimlessly in a dark void, never to know peace.
Cho-hot gently hoisted her sister's body over her horse, retrieved war chief Et-esh's sleepy-eyed buckskin, then mounted up.
Trader reined up at his rundown cabin. "Sneeda," he shouted, "drag your barefoot skinny behind out and help your father."
Auburn-haired Sneeda hurried out. No older than fourteen, pale and malnourished, clad in dirty, ragged dress of long faded blue, terrified of another beating, she helped drag the unconscious Et-esh into the house, dumping her upon a back room bed's filthy sheets. Trader tossed rawhide thongs atop the warrior.
"Tie her hands, legs, and feet, girl. Then prop her up."
"Why are you doing this?"
Trader backhanded Sneeda across her dirty face.
"Don't backtalk me, girl. Do it! I'm going hunting. The Amazoni better be awake when I get back or you'll get a good whipping."
Stomping out, Trader slammed the door.
Sneeda struggled to sit the brawny Et-esh up. After tying her wrists, legs and ankles, Sneeda raced to the well.
Et-esh jerked awake to the feel of Sneeda patting cool water upon her face with a filthy rag. Head throbbing from Trader's rock striking her, she strained against her bonds, muscles bulging in her failed efforts. Breathing hard, she ceased struggling. Humiliated at being trussed like a boar to be roasted, she growled softly in frustration. Sneeda attempted to apply more soothing water to Et-esh's face, but the warrior, teeth bared, pale eyes blazing, jerked away. She again struggled hard against her bonds, roaring like a trapped animal. The thongs drew blood, enraging her more.
"Stop it! Stop it! You'll hurt yourself!"
Et-esh doubled her efforts, her great strength loosening her wrist bonds.
Terrified, Sneeda backed into a corner.
A hard tug--Et-esh snapped her wrist bonds, then freed her bound legs. She bounded off the bed. At that moment Trader stamped into the room, crossbow in hand, pointing it at the enraged Amazoni.
"Hold it right there, savage, or I'll nail you to the damn wall."
Et-esh stepped menacingly toward Trader.
"Have it your way."
Trader pulled the trigger, dropping Et-esh with an arrow through the shoulder.
Staggering to her feet, Et-esh ripped Trader's arrow out of her shoulder, stoically ignoring the pain.
Trader shakily reloaded his crossbow as Et-esh lumbered toward him intent on ripping her enemy apart barehanded.
Trader raised his weapon to shoot. Had Et-esh not collapsed at his feet he would've surely died.
"Damn it!" Trader shouted. "You can't do anything right, girl. The Amazoni is stronger than I thought because of you. Go to the shed and get that new rope and my wooden stakes."
Sneeda kneeled over Et-esh.
Trader yanked her up by her long auburn hair and shoved her toward the door.
"Go on! I'll have to stake the Amazoni myself!"
Cho-hot, encrusted with the dried black mud of mourning smeared on her tear-streaked face, neck, and exposed chest, arrived in camp, slowly leading the horse supporting her sister Hoshkeen's body and Et-esh's sleepy-eyed buckskin. Following Amazoni wailed their grief.
Hearing the commotion council broke up, the brawny, mahogany-skinned, raven-haired Shesh-Amazoni Ohnaà, leading the way at a run.
Cho-hot slid off her mount before a stunned Ohnaà. With difficulty Cho-hot hefted Hoshkeen, arrow still embedded in her chest, into her arms Without a word the grief-stricken warrior carried her sister's body to the medicine lodge.
Straining to contain her temper, Ohnaà stalked back to the council tepee. A short time later council members somberly filed in to wait with Ohnaà for Cho-hot's arrival. Seething, Ohnaà sat, arms folded across her chest, her mind whirling over this latest outrage.
Cho-hot arrived, her azure doe eyes hardened with anger, grief, and hatred. She stood before Ohnaà, staring into her coal eyes. "Two days ago," she began, "I, Et-esh, and Hoshkeen traveled our land in search of wild horses. We stopped to rest. Before we knew it, we were attacked. Hoshkeen..." Tears flowing, Cho-hot faltered and fell silent in her struggle for control. Patiently, council waited. Cho-hot wiped her mud-caked eyes dry. "Hoshkeen," she resumed, "was attacked by a Trader brandishing a small bow he carries on his belt."
"I have seen these weapons," Ohnaà confirmed. "They are called crossbows, and one strikes with the strength of two Amazoni archers."
An angry rumble spread through council, silenced by an upraised hand of Ohnaà.
"For no reason did this Trader kill Hoshkeen and slit her throat. That was not enough! He kidnapped Et-esh!"
"Where did this happen?" Ohnaà asked.
Ohnaà approached the trembling Cho-hot.
"Daughter of Codot, as I cannot ride the war path in mourning, you must. Find Et-esh. Find this Trader. I demand his scalp and heart so Hoshkeen may be burned with them. His family must pay! I ask this of you in Hoshkeen's name. I ask this of you as the friend you are."
Ohnaà's huge mahogany-skinned right hand tightly clasped the warrior's mud-caked shoulder, her black eyes blazing.
"I will wear the paint of war. I will find our enemy who murders Hoshkeen and holds war chief Et-esh captive. His lodge will burn. He will lose his horses. I will bring him to camp. Cho-hot will see him pay."
"This council," a warrior shouted leaping to her feet, "and many others will join Ohnaà!"
Council raised their voices in shrill cries.
Cho-hot inclined her head in acceptance of Ohnaà's pledge.
"Come, Cho-hot. I will accompany you to Medicine Woman to sing prayers over Hoshkeen. When the sun rises our war party will ride."
Et-esh awoke lashed spread-eagled in Trader's front yard, plagued by waves of excruciating pain from her infected shoulder wound from Trader's arrow. Sweat dribbled into her eyes as the sun baked her. Her dry throat ached; her sore muscled stiffened. Trained to withstand hardship, Et-esh displayed none of the agony she felt, which frustrated Trader no end as he sought to break his prisoner's spirit.
Trader kneeled beside Et-esh
"You Amazoni are a tough lot. I'll grant you that."
"I am a warrior," Et-esh whispered. "Never will you break me. I die with honor."
"I won't kill you yet, but I think I'll have you screaming for it soon."
Et-esh laughed her contempt.
Trader kicked the warrior's infected shoulder.
Et-esh laughed weakly and closed her eyes.
Dawn saw Ohnaà before her fire, Ojah beside her. He solemnly handed his mate two small bowls filled with bright red and black paint. Holding her trade mirror steady, Ohnaà streaked her mahogany-skinned cheeks with alternating thick bars of red and black paint. Upon her forehead she smeared a thick coat of red paint.
Ojah handed the warrior her rabbit skin bag. From it Ohnaà drew a polished choker of black gorak bird beaks which Ojah proudly tied around her throat. To an ebony side lock Ohnaà secured a cluster of three white feathers bound together with a beaded thong. Ojah drew from the bag a thin, beaded thong and tied it above his warrior's bulging right bicep.
Ohnaà stood. Donning her bow and quiver completed her ferocious attire.
Outside the war party gathered, their horses snorting and whinnying. Villagers shouted and trilled their support.
Ohnaà indulged herself with a long, burning look at Ojah before leaving. Her painted and eager party of ten greeted her with shrill shouts. Vaulting onto Appaloosa she led her party to Cho-hot's tepee and called out the mud-caked warrior. Saluting her with upraised fist, Ohnaà then led her party out in a cloud of dust.
For two days Ohnaà rode her party hard, encouraged by Trader's easy trail. They halted upon the hill overseeing Trader's rundown cabin. Seeing Et-esh staked out, hearing her laugh and sing, a trace of a smile cracked Ohnaà's grim painted mask. Et-esh was insulting Trader as only a brave Amazoni could by laughing in the face of death.
Shouting a shrill war cry, Ohnaà led her party down, swarming around Trader.
"You're a colorful bunch to visit."
Ohnaà curtly ordered two warriors to cut Et-esh free and assist her in mounting up. Dismounting Ohnaà stalked up to the defiant Trader. A sharp gesture summoned two warriors.
"Baychalà toe dahkay. Dejò ahooska hatonka."
The warriors crashed their mounts through the cabin's large front window. A scream pierced the air as Sneeda, snared by nooses, was forced through shattered window glass, slicing her severely.
Trader chased the warriors dragging his daughter. Ohnaà calmly drew her bow, notched an arrow, and shot Trader in the leg, dropping him screaming and squirming.
Shouldering her bow the Shesh-Amazoni kicked open the cabin's door and entered. Upon the living room's fireplace mantle sat an oil lamp and box of matches. With gusto she sprinkled the floor with the oil lamp's fuel. Seizing the matchbox she ripped it open. Knowing the magic of the small, blue-tipped sticks, she struck a match. Setting the cabin ablaze she escaped with a handful of matches.
Like dry timber the cabin flared as it burned, reduced to a roasting wooden skeleton in minutes.
"My home," Trader moaned. "Ner Almighty my home!"
"Your lodge makes good firewood, Trader dog."
"Ohnaà," a warrior called. "Hoashkà beekcoochnay Dewhatconeh seehas, noagah toe dahkay."
Ohnaà seized Trader by the collar, yanking him limping behind her as she followed the warrior's lead to the open-doored barn in the smoldering cabin's back yard. She slammed Trader to the ground driving her arrow deeper into his leg. "My warrior says you have horses. Another enemy, I would take his horses." She held up a fresh match. "For what you do to Amazoni, you watch all your horses die."
"No," Trader begged, "please not my horses. No!"
Ohnaà stomped into the barn. Smoke soon billowed out. The horses' panicked screams and kicking hoofs raged.
"No!" Trader shouted. "No!"
As had the cabin, the barn flared into an inferno. Ohnaà stepped through a wall of smoke, soot dusting her face paint.
"Fire eat horse today."
The horses' screams ceased abruptly when the barn's roof caved in.
A warrior tossed Ohnaà her rope to tie the sobbing Trader and his slashed daughter. She mounted up.
"We go now. You have more to pay for taking Et-esh, killing Hoshkeen."
Ohnaà paraded her roped and injured prisoners through camp. Gathering Amazoni pelted them with rocks and dried horse dung. Cho-hot lunged from the mob, knocking Trader down with a head punch.
"Cho-hot is the sister of warrior you kill."
Trader struggled to his feet.
"You are lucky, Trader dog, Cho-hot does not break her vow of mourning and kill you before I do." Ohnaà reined up beside the groggy, bleeding Et-esh, seized her horse's reins, and turned to her warriors. "Stake the prisoners. Bind their heads with the soaked rawhide band," she commanded then led Et-esh to the medicine lodge. Refusing help, the young warrior entered, easing herself down upon a soft bed of fur.
"You showed great courage, young one. When well, you will share you story with your proud people."
Et-esh smiled weakly.
Ohnaà, washed clean of war paint, joined Cho-hot sitting before their staked captives. She gazed skyward.
"The day grows hot."
Cho-hot's mud-caked face cracked in a broad smile, her revenge soon to be realized.
The day passed slowly punctuated by the screaming torment of Trader and his daughter Sneeda whose skulls were compressed by their tightening headbands.
Dusk descended when Ohnaà drew her knife and looked to Cho-hot who nodded.
Trader and Sneeda screamed as Ohnaà scalped them, handing the bloody trophies to Cho-hot.
Ohnaà felt her prisoners' thready heartbeats and knew the time had come to claim their hearts and offer them to Cho-hot.
Cho-hot stood, emancipated by Ohnaà's completion of her blood oath.
"Gather the people, Cho-hot. It is time to send Hoshkeen to the spirit land."
Ohnaà gently lay the painted body of Hoshkeen atop her funeral pyre set upon a mound of wood and brush.
Cho-hot placed her sister's bow, quiver, and lance next to her. Upon her belly she placed Trader's and Sneeda's hearts and scalps. Drawing Trader's arrow from Hoshkeen's chest, Cho-hot threw it into the pyre's fuel.
Ohnaà rested a huge, gentle, mahogany-skinned hand upon Hoshkeen's greased, flaxen hair. Blinking back tears she silently bade farewell.
A warrior handed Cho-hot a torch which was promptly stuffed into the pyre's fuel. In seconds Hoshkeen was engulfed in flames. As her sister burned, Cho-hot sang a farewell prayer joined by Ohnaà's strong voice hurrying Hoshkeen on her journey to the spirits.