|Written by:||Lisa Godin (bio, contact, other stories)|
|Story type:||Serial Fiction|
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|Written by:||Lisa Godin (bio, contact, other stories)|
|Story type:||Serial Fiction|
The Shesh-Amazoni arrived at Trader Joseph's Trader Lodge armed with two prime wolf pelts. Entering the establishment she was astonished to find the place empty. "Dewhatconeh Jo-teff," she hailed.
Trader Joseph emerged from the open back room door behind the bar.
"Hello, Ohnaà. What a nice surprise."
The warrior stepped up to the bar.
"You are looking well."
"I am strong."
"Tell me something I don't know."
"I was in a great battle. You know of pebble snakes?"
"I've never seen one but I hear they grow large."
Ohnaà's obsidian eyes glittered.
"I battled one to save Ojah from being eaten. With my knife did I kill it. Ah yah! You should have seen me fight this mighty snake!"
Trader Joseph chuckled, knowing the Amazoni penchant for exaggeration.
"You know I do not lie about my battles."
"Ohnaà, even you--"
"When you visit you will see snake skin. Ojah made a special bag to hold it."
"I look forward to viewing it."
The warrior looked about.
"It is strange to see no one here, Jo-teff."
"A rare day indeed."
Ohnaà slapped the two wolf pelts upon the bar. "Tobacco and papers," she grunted.
Collecting the pelts Trader Joseph disappeared into the back room, returning a moment later with a fist-sized pouch.
"Papers are inside."
Ohnaà fastened the pouch to her skimpy bikini skins' waistband beside her scalpcord.
"It's just as well you came when you did. A friend of mine is visiting, one I think you'd be interested in meeting."
Ohnaà remained unimpressed.
"My friend could prove a benefit to you."
"He has a fine scalp?"
"I'd prefer you not think of him in those terms. He and I go back a long way. It won't exactly pain you to meet him."
Indifferent to the seeming importance of meeting a stranger, Ohnaà shrugged massive shoulders in compliance, having nothing better to do for amusement.
The stranger seated behind Trader Joseph's desk stood. The tall man dressed in a tailored suit of brown cloth was a striking figure. He was chisel-featured with piercing, unblinking, azure eyes and shoulder-length, wavy auburn hair. He extended a polite, long-fingered hand.
Shunning the strange custom of shaking hands, Ohnaà folded brawny arms across her chest.
Embarrassed, the man dropped his extended hand.
"Ohnaà, John McKay."
The warrior continued to stare, sizing up the steady-eyed stranger.
"Well, I'll leave you two alone to get acquainted."
Chuckling, Trader Joseph left the room.
"My, you're quite the specimen."
Ohnaà sighed with boredom.
"May I offer you a chair?"
Ohnaà gracefully sank cross-legged to the floor.
"Ah yes, the floor. Well I..."
Rolling and lighting a cigarette, Ohnaà puffed contentedly, staring at John McKay's legs while he decided his next move.
"The floor it is, then."
John McKay opened his mouth to speak again, only to be cut off by the lit cigarette thrust under his nose.
"I'm sorry, but--"
"All who wish important talk with me, smoke. It is the way, Mah-keh."
John McKay barely inhaled, hoping the warrior wouldn't notice.
"Ah yah!" Ohnaà scolded. "You can breathe in more smoke."
Inhaling a grand puff, forcing himself not to cough, John McKay passed the cigarette to the warrior.
Ohnaà inhaled deeply, rapidly inducing the cigarette to a glowing nub and casually flipping it aside. Eyes glazed with pleasure, she gradually exhaled.
"This is good, strong Trader tobacco. It burns away all lies from our words."
Uncomprehending the Trader expression, Ohnaà dismissed the comment with a shrug. Obsidian eyes burning into her companion, she folded her arms across her chest.
"What is it you wish to speak of that Trader Jo-teff thinks is important?"
Considering the warrior's commanding tone, John McKay wondered whether a response was being asked or demanded of him. Remembering Joseph's reminder of Ohnaà's austere nature, he buried all resentment generated by the Shesh-Amazoni's gruffness.
"I'm a storyteller."
"Your trail of marks on paper is of use to me."
John McKay nodded.
"I'm anxious to write a book about you."
"Many seasons ago, I met a woman. I traveled to her lodge, led by the spirits. She made the marks you speak of also. Many learned of my deeds through her."
"What I wish to write about is different in a small way."
Ohnaà's stoic silence was encouraging.
"I want to know more about your unusual background, your ways, religion, the--"
Ohnaà's chuckle was tainted with bitterness.
"There are no Outsiders who wish to understand my people. They see me only as a savage to be tamed to their ways. All know of me already."
"Fear inspired from the tales I've heard of you."
"Fear is respect, Mah-keh."
"Fear by those who don't know you as more than a fighter is ignorance. That's a dangerous thing. There are many who do want to know about who you are, and of Amazoni through you. It'll draw many to rally behind you."
"Your tongue has many unknown meanings."
"Many want to support you."
"I am a leader, Mah-keh, and a great warrior. I do not need the support of your people. I fight to keep my way of life."
"Tell me more about your way of life. You owe people that much."
"You may fight us 'till you take your last breath, but help those who want to understand. Lift the veil of darkness, exaggeration, and secretiveness. Then there'll be fewer to condemn your fighting us, as what your protecting will be clear."
Ohnaà's scowl gradually dissolved.
"Jun Mah-keh will learn about Amazoni. He will learn about me."
John McKay was ecstatic at being able to convince such an austere warrior of his grand intentions.
"You will walk among my people who will accept your presence. You will live in my tepee. Ask your questions and learn well the answers. When you put your marks upon paper, you will do it with the heart of Amazoni."
John McKay beamed.
"Now, Jun Mah-keh, we smoke as friends."
John McKay prepared his lungs with a deep cleansing breath.
Writer and Amazon mounted up.
"You have hunger, Mah-keh?"
John McKay rubbed his belly.
"I suppose I'm hungry after all."
"We will hunt."
John McKay was dubious.
"Not to sound petty, but you're armed only with a knife. Speared bugs and reptiles are not on my list of things to eat."
"Mah-keh will soon learn that Amazoni do not always need weapons to hunt. The land is filled with many good things to eat when you know what to look for. One who is touched eats bugs."
John McKay had to spur his mount to keep up with the long-legged stride of Appaloosa.
They halted within a dense forest, a foodless tangle of trees to John McKay's untrained eye. Dismounting, both stood beneath a thickly trunked tree with wide, drooping fronds.
Ohnaà rested a strong, brown hand upon the tree's trunk. "What do you see?" she quizzed.
"Quite an obvious question. You're touching a pretty tall tree with broad, droopy leaves."
Ohnaà shook her head.
"You see things with Trader eyes, Mah-keh. This is not just a tree planted by the spirits to look at. It is called a Lexus tree. It has many uses."
Drawing her knife, the warrior excised a square of bumpy bark and handed it to John McKay. She cut out a patch for herself. With her teeth she dredged out its soft, white, inner bark.
John McKay followed suit.
"The bark can be made into pudding. My mate, Ojah, finds closer trees to make his pudding for me. He makes it strong with herbs. Dried, Medicine Woman uses the bark meat to heal coughs. Powdered, the outer bark calms angry bowels." Ohnaà pointed to the wide, green tree leaves. "They drink water like Trader cloth, they are used as wrapping, and keep fires lit as they burn slowly and without smoke."
Ohnaà scaled the tree and rattling a handful of branches dislodged two lemon-sized, green fruit that bounced off John McKay's head. Laughing, she descended to the ground tossing a Lexus fruit to him. She peeled her fruit like an orange, revealing pink meat, and indulged in a grand bite.
"This is quite tasty, Ohnaà."
"The juice kills thirst more than water."
John McKay gobbled up his snack.
Ohnaà finished her fruit with savage pleasure, licking her sticky fingers.
"To Amazoni, many things give life. Your people do not see what we see, so they want to steal my land to make it theirs. What we will not let them take they try to destroy. For this, many die by my hand."
They mounted up.
"We are not far from my camp."
John McKay nodded.
"I never realized how protective you are of the land. All the stories--"
"They say I kill without reason."
John McKay nodded.
"It is not so, Mah-keh. I do not kill for sport. That is the way of Ossit, not Amazoni. Have no worry, Mah-keh. As long as you do nothing to become my enemy, your long hair is safe."
"That's a relief!"
Ohnaà and John McKay entered the Amazoni camp trailed by the curious, who, taking their cue from their tahna's demeanor, displayed no hostility toward the stranger.
"Men in dresses?" How odd!"
"It seems so feminine. No man wears a dress."
"It has always been so among Amazoni."
The riders, flanked on all sides by the interested people, drew closer to the corral.
"Amazoni men take great pride in the making of their dresses. Many days it takes and much imagination, as each dress is different."
They reined up at the corral.
"Why do Amazoni warriors wear such skimpy skins?"
"I do not know this Trader word."
"You're nearly naked!"
"Ah yah! Warriors have great strength. It is good to show it."
"It's certainly the case with you. I don't think there's enough material anywhere to cover you up!"
Smiling, Ohnaà playfully flexed a massive left bicep.
John McKay burst into laughter at the Shesh-Amazoni's humor. Ohnaà wasn't the sullen person he had first thought, after all.
Facing the crowd, Ohnaà explained in Amazoni John McKay's fact-finding mission.
Everyone was pleased.
"This night, Mah-key, you will come to a big dance. There will be singing and drumming. Much boar meat we will eat. It is the last dance before the snows come."
John McKay followed Ohnaà to her tepee.
Warrior and writer sat atop the high fur bed. Ohnaà retrieved her wolf skin bag.
John McKay's glance fell upon the beaded pouch hanging at the warrior's belt.
"What's that more elaborate pouch at your waist?"
"My medicine bag. It is filled with many charms. All warriors carry such bags."
"May I see what's inside?"
"Never must talisman be shown, Mah-keh. Their power would fly away and leave a warrior weak."
Ohnaà drew from her wolf skin bag two small bowls stained with red and black paint, a trade mirror, two paint pouches, two mixing sticks, her polished black gorak bird beak choker, a thin flexible beaded arm band, and two hair ornaments with inch-long, polished gold dangles.
Ojah entered the lodge and sat beside his warrior.
"Prepare my paints, Ojah," Ohnaà bade in Amazoni.
Smiling at John McKay, Ojah spoke, the Amazoni language lyrical to the writer's ear.
"Ojah says it is a great honor that you share our dance."
Mixing the paints with water from his belt gourd, Ojah spoke again.
"He asks if you sing and dance well."
John McKay blushed.
"I'm lacking in both, I'm afraid."
Ojah nodded at the translation.
"Amazoni will help you better sing and dance, Mah-keh."
"How long do your dances last?"
"Sometimes all night."
Wielding her palm-sized trade mirror with steady hand, Ohnaà striped her high mahogany-skinned cheekbones with red and black. Her forehead was slathered with red. She held up her dangle hair ornaments.
"I pay Trader Jo-teff much for these. Five red rabbit pelts."
Ohnaà affixed her dangles into glistening raven sidelocks, checking their position in the mirror. The onyx gorak bird beak choker was strung around her neck. The thin beaded armband was slid above her right bicep accentuating its enormous size.
Ojah excused himself to supervise the dance's roasting boar meat.
Drumming and singing sounded.
Ohnaà filled her pipe.
"You need a good smoke, Mah-keh."
Lighting her pipe, she enjoyed several puffs before passing it.
After tapping out pipe ashes, Ohnaà stood, her hair dangles tinkling delicately.
John McKay rose.
The dance's singing and drumming rose in volume.
"Now, we join my people in dance and song."
"I told you I can't dance or sing well."
"We will help."
"I'll make a fool of myself!"
Ohnaà became stern.
"You come to learn my ways, Mah-keh. Our dance is part of that. You will not shame me by cowering over a simple thing. Come!"
John McKay hesitated.
"Do I carry you like a child, or do you walk like a man, Mah-keh?"
John McKay inhaled a deep, quivering breath and led the way outside, his innards shivering with fear looking the idiot.
Darkness blanketed the camp, the twin moons hidden behind thick clouds.
Bathed in torchlight, warriors swayed and shuffled with their men. Children clapped and sang. Many sat watching the dancers, between bites of steaming boar meat. Half-eaten boar carcasses spiced with herbs and skewered over flames sizzled. Singers, swayed as they sang beside warrior drummers.
Ohnaà stood with John McKay behind the audience.
Those seated nodded and smiled at their Outsider visitor. Ohnaà pointed to a burly, tow-headed warrior wearing a raven feather in her sidelock who stomped and bobbed.
"She is war chief, Et-esh. She is a great horse breaker. We are very close."
"She's as big as you and looks mean indeed."
"Et-esh is much friendlier than she looks. Good. The drums stop. Let us join Et-esh and the others."
Ohnaà and John McKay squeezed in beside Et-esh, who flashed a brilliant smile.
"Dahò, Mah-keh. You watch me dance?"
"It is simple. Watch how we move our feet."
"I'll trip over my two left feet."
"I will pick you up before we trample you."
Everyone locked arms as the drumming resumed. John McKay kept his eyes upon Et-esh's footwork, crossing left over right then stomping with the right. Before long he was stepping with expert ease.
The drums quickened their tempo, then ceased after a resounding boom.
As he wiped sweat from his brow, John McKay's chest heaved from the unaccustomed exercise.
"You learn well Amazoni dance, Mah-keh. Now we eat boar meat," Ohnaà said.
"I'm so hungry I could eat a horse."
"We could roast one for you."
"I was joking."
"Ah yah! That was a good joke."
Ohnaà led the way to a roasting boar.
The gray of dawn streaked the sky before the remaining dancers decided to retire.
John McKay shuffled beside Ohnaà as they headed toward her tepee.
"You look as fresh as when the dance started, while I can barely keep my eyes open."
"Amazoni have much stamina, as you say. You enjoyed the dance?"
"I surely did. Hearing your language in the songs was quite interesting."
"If you wish, one day I will teach you my tongue."
"Did Joseph teach you Trader?"
"Can you read Trader?"
"I do not need to know your marks."
"You miss so much being unable to read."
"Reading the tracks of man and beast, nothing escapes me. I will not starve, no enemy will harm me. My nose reads what eyes cannot see. I read ashes and know how long ago a fire burns. I read a man's eyes and see into his heart and know if he lies. Can you do these things?"
"You miss more, storyteller."
"But I'm learning."
Ohnaà clapped an affectionate hand upon John McKay's back. Reaching her tepee she led the way inside.
Silken furs were heaped beside the low fire, put down by Ojah before retiring.
"Here you will sleep. I must bathe in the lake. When we rise, the fire will be ours to talk and smoke. Ojah will have food for us."
"Will he be joining us?"
Ohnaà slipped off her hair ornaments, housing them temporarily in a waist pouch.
"Ojah leaves early to do his work, leaving us to our important talk."
The burly warrior abruptly took her leave.
At midmorning, the enticing fragrance of simmering boar stew, prepared earlier by Ojah, awakened John McKay.
Smoking her pipe beside him, the warrior inclined her head in greeting.
"Good morning, Ohnaà."
The warrior exhaled a puff of aromatic smoke.
Sitting up, John McKay eyed the stew pot. "That smells good," he hinted.
Nodding, Ohnaà exhaled another puff of smoke, secretly amused that the Outsider expected her to fill his bowl, a task only an Amazoni man would perform.
Realizing Ohnaà wasn't going to cater to his needs, John McKay used a wooden spoon to ladle out his stew into the bowl that had been provided. He began to eat.
"It is his task to feed me before leaving to attend my horses, flesh hides, and if needed, gather wood."
John McKay quickly finished his breakfast.
"We will smoke before you ask your questions."
John McKay was annoyed. Amazoni smoked too much over little, unimportant things, it seemed.
"You are angry at how important the pipe is."
John McKay was astounded.
"You forget how much your eyes tell." Ohnaà passed her smoldering pipe. "Your questions are important talk, so we smoke."
John McKay accepted the pipe, inhaling deeply before returning it.
Ohnaà burned the tobacco remains, and tapped out the ashes.
"Now, I will hear your words."
John McKay shifted his weight for comfort.
"It's quite obvious you're not Amazoni."
Ohnaà fumed at the observation, an image she had fought for as long as she could remember, an assumption she hated worse than any enemy.
"I am Ohnaà, Mah-keh, daughter of the mighty Codot," she exploded. "It is of no concern that I did not come from her body for this to be! My people do not care that I am not pale skinned, yellow haired, and light eyed. My heart beats Amazoni. Always will this be so to them!"
"I only meant--"
"You judge me by how I look," Ohnaà snarled. "In battle, no enemy sees my color. They see my knife lift their hair. They hear my war cry and tremble. With respect do my enemies speak my name around night fires."
John McKay was deeply ashamed at his blunder.
"When I was a baby," Ohnaà continued, "I was taken by Codot, from Shesh. But in all ways am I Amazoni. I joined my first war party when I was fourteen seasons. I took five scalps. When I became war chief at twenty seasons, I was the youngest to earn such high rank. I carried fifteen scalps, more than any warrior.
"Because I am special are my deeds greater."
"I see that now. Will you forgive me for being an ignorant, judgmental fool?"
Her temper dissipating, Ohnaà nodded.
"You will put this lesson in your marks of me."
"I'll devote an entire chapter about actions being of more import than appearance."
"Now, about you and Joseph--"
"Enough talk of me today," Ohnaà declared. "Let us enjoy the day on horseback."
Entering the corral, they saw Et-esh grooming a pregnant sorrel mare.
Dropping her brush, Et-esh approached Ohnaà and John McKay as they mounted. "Dahò, Mah-keh," she greeted brightly.
"Hello. Et-esh is it?"
The war chief nodded.
"How are you today?"
"I am good. My mare will give birth any day. It is always a good thing to have a new horse join my herd."
John McKay eyed the mare standing placidly with half-closed eyes.
"She's certainly a beauty."
"Ah yah! I always know the right horses to capture." Et-esh grinned. "She is a Trader horse and already pregnant."
Ohnaà chuckled softly at her friend's delight in recounting her taking of Outsider horses, an act proving her superiority over them.
"You didn't harm her previous owners, did you?"
"No, Mah-keh. I went under cover of darkness. When I steal horses, no one knows unless I let them know it is I.
"Where do you and Ohnaà go?"
"I will show him our land, young one. He will realize how far it reaches. Besides, I grow tired of talking about myself today."
"Maybe next time he will make a story of me. I have many tales to tell."
"You just like to talk, young one."
Ohnaà and John McKay trotted out of the corral, leaving Et-esh to finish grooming.
"She's quite a character."
"That is good?"
John McKay nodded.
Ohnaà nudged Appaloosa into a brisk canter.
For a month, Ohnaà avoided questions attempted by the Trader writer, instead filling the time with hunting, arrow making, and honing her knife and lance. Covertly she studied the frustrated man resigned to silence. One night, sitting beside the fire braiding a horsehair bridle, Ohnaà ceased her work.
"You have passed an Amazoni test of great importance."
"Test?" John McKay demanded.
Setting aside her bridle, Ohnaà nodded, unruffled by the man's indignation.
"One of many tests a warrior must endure is patience. You ceased your questions and it was not easy. You watch me do my tasks without complaint. You learn when to ask and when to keep silent. I am proud you pass the Amazoni lesson of patience. It is something even I, whose blood burns hot with fire, must still practice. Patience is a lesson unending.
"What new things do you wish to hear?"
"Joseph never told me how you met. You two are close?"
"He is like a brother. We met when I was ten seasons. He won the trust of Codot, my mother, with honest trading. Then, Jo-teff had no Trader Lodge, so he would come to us. He was the first Outsider I had seen."
"You became fast friends."
"I did not like him. It takes much for me to like one not Amazoni. I watch how he deal with Codot. Always was he honest. I learn to like him. I teach him to speak Amazoni. I teach him Amazoni ways. His heart became one with my people. I learn some of his ways and to speak his words. Any man who would harm him, his woman, his two daughters, I will kill, for they are like family. Amazoni always protect family."
"Joseph's a lucky man to have you as a friend."
"It is so," Ohnaà confirmed. "I am a powerful friend to have. I am a bad enemy to have.
"You have more things to ask?"
"No. We've covered all the important things."
"Mah-keh, it would please me, when you make your marks of your stay, that you return and share them with me."
"I'd be delighted. Shall we smoke on it?"
Bursting into hearty laughter in pleasure of John McKay's mastery of the importance of smoke, Ohnaà reached for her pipe.