|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|
A gaunt Ojah sat beside the fire observing his mate, the mighty Ohnaà, as she honed the last of her arrows. The grinding of metal against the oiled stone bar was grating to an ear yearning for conversation.
"You are very quiet, my warrior. Your thoughts seethe like boiling water within you."
Scowling at her task, Ohnaà replied with a curt nod. A loosened lock of raven hair draped over her right eye was clawed aside by long annoyed fingers.
"Why do you hone your arrows with anger?"
"Prey grows scarce, Ojah," Ohnaà retorted, grinding her arrow point harder against the stone bar, etching deeper the scars upon it. "Listening to Amazoni children howl with hunger, my anger should be no surprise."
"Game will return. It always does."
"Each time it takes longer for our animals to return in force. Days ago I found an Ossit butchering a boar. For his arrogance in invading, he lost his hair."
"I remember your kill. But Ossit, too, need to eat."
Ceasing her honing, Ohnaà looked up sharply. "Ossit have no business eating what little game roams our land," she snapped. "Sympathy toward the hunger of enemies makes me think Ossit spirits cast a spell upon your reason."
"That is foolishness."
Ohnaà slammed the finished arrow into her quiver and cast aside her honing bar with an irate thump.
"Hunger affects everyone," Ojah replied, deeply hurt by Ohnaà's accusation that he was possessed.
"I care only about the empty bellies of my people."
Ojah rested a cool, pale hand upon Ohnaà's huge dark one.
Teeth bared, the warrior yanked away her hand.
Tears welled up within Ojah's soft azure eyes. "Do not be angry with me," he pleaded.
Her scowl dissolving, Ohnaà gently wiped away the tear oozing down Ojah's cheek. "Forgive me, my mate," she relented. "It is not you I am angry with, but myself."
"You have no control over the scarcity of game."
Ohnaà heaved a sigh.
"I know. But seeing you waste away from little food while I remain strong unsettles me."
"I know how hard you try in your hunts."
Ohnaà tenderly stroked Ojah's cheek. "I admire your understanding heart." She stood."I must speak with Et-esh. Do not wait up for me."
The warrior stalked into the simmering night to Et-esh's tepee and joined her at the fire.
"Your cooking pot is nearly empty."
"Soon, like everyone else, I and Dukwukka, must dip into dwindling Amazoni winter stores of jerked deer and boar meat."
"Tomorrow I will hunt again. Maybe I will find more than skinny rabbits."
"I will join you."
Ohnaà shook her head.
"The camp needs protection. I will share whatever I find."
"We should travel one of these days to Jo-teff's Trader Lodge. He will have meat to make us strong again."
Ohnaà bristled at the suggestion.
"Amazoni will not beg, young one. Relying on ourselves is our way."
"That is no comfort to our hungry children, Ohnaà."
"Ah yah! It must be so. If we give in to Outsider help, we might as well live on their reservations where we will starve quicker. I do not think you want that for our children."
Et-esh prodded the fire with a twig.
"There is one good thing about our plight, young one."
"Winter is not hounding us."
Et-esh managed a half-hearted smile.
Returning to her tepee, Ohnaà was glad to find Ojah sleeping peacefully. Seated before the fire she lit her pipe. Her stern chiseled dark features mirrored dancing firelight shadow as she reflected upon the upcoming hunt, desperately hoping to kill something bigger than small rabbits, deciding that this one time she would utilize her Trader rifle with its gold inlay stock.
Soon the strong tobacco worked its magic, calming her to drowsiness. Not bothering to tap out pipe ashes, she indulged in a grand yawn, padded to the high fur bed, stripped, and snuggled next to Ojah beneath warm furs. Instantly asleep, the mournful hooting of an owl went unheard.
The next morning, Ohnaà loaded her carbine.
"Eat, my warrior, before you go."
Ohnaà shook her head.
Ojah filled his mate's bowl with the remaining stew. "You need your strength to hunt," he insisted.
"I am not hungry."
Ojah sighed with exasperation.
Cocking her carbine with a startling snap Ohnaà left.
Et-esh, perched on the corral gate, observed Ohnaà vault gracefully upon Appaloosa.
"This is a first, my friend. You hunt with a Trader weapon. Perhaps you search for human prey to boil in your pot this time."
"Should I find an Ossit, he will be put in your pot."
"Only if he has enough meat on his bones."
Ohnaà saluted Et-esh with upraised carbine and rode on her way.
* * * * * * *
The sun sweltered overhead as Ohnaà searched the seared grasslands for sign. Kneeling, she scooped up a handful of browning yellow grass that disintegrated into brittle shavings when strained between her fingers.
"Ah yah! These grasses remain barren of tracks."
Shielding her eyes, Ohnaà examined the bleached sky. Slowly she stood, her dark physique gleaming with sweat. Unhooking the water gourd from her skins' waistband she doused her face, throat, and arms with lukewarm water. It did nothing to relieve her heat, but wet skin would not roast as rapidly. Remounted, she cantered toward the forest several miles ahead.
Ohnaà halted at the forest boundary. Dismounting, she proceeded on foot, clutching her rifle in strong clammy hand.
The forest's flora, once green and lush, had been sucked dry by the searing heat; the towering trees were skeletal. With the creeping deliberation of a stalking long-toothed cat, the warrior pressed on.
A cawing crow, emaciated from hunger, flapped from its perch.
Ohnaà delved deeper within the woods, instinctively sidestepping brittle twigs, vaulting gracefully over toppled, fungi-encrusted tree trunks. Her senses strained for the slightest whisper of game. Hours she probed to no avail. Dejected, she sat upon a log, and cradled her head in her hands for a long while. In frustrated anger, she leaped to her feet. "Sky People," she bellowed, "our animals will not grace us with their nourishing bodies. Amazoni are hungry as our stores dwindle. Our children cry. Why do you torture us?"
Resigning herself with a sigh to her spirits' abandonment, Ohnaà loped to Appaloosa for the long ride home.
* * * * * * *
The war party of ten Ossit warriors observed the bustling Amazoni village from a ledge. The Ossit leader, his handsome gray face streaked with yellow paint, his greased scalplock dressed with crow feathers, his ears adorned of shoulder-length, multi-shelled earrings tipped with white down feathers, centered his attention on Ohnaà's tepee where Ojah sat outside sewing. He pointed.
"That one is the mate of the one called Ohnaà."
"How do you know, Wee-keek-ook?" a warrior asked.
"How quickly you forget, Latonga, how many seasons I have watched Ohnaà's lodge and all who are close to her. Her mate will serve my purpose."
"It is not your place to question, Latonga, but to do my bidding. Do all remember my plan?"
"Distract the Amazoni while you steal Ohnaà's mate."
Agitated, Wee-keek-ook glared at Latonga."
"Distraction is child's play. Death upon Amazoni is glory. Can you accomplish that without falling off your horse or getting killed?"
Furrowing his brow, Latonga rubbed his chin in thought.
"I think so."
Rolling his eyes, Wee-keek-ook shook his head.
All but Latonga got to their feet to walk to their horses. Teeth bared,
Wee-keek-ook hauled Latonga to his feet by the scalplock and dragged him to his horse.
Screeching like crazed hounds, the pack of ten Ossit warriors poured down the rocky ledge and overran the unprepared Amazoni camp. Their predatory instincts aroused, they shot streams of arrows and waved stone war clubs in their pursuit of anything that moved.
Et-esh barked orders to warriors while motioning to the screaming and crying men and children, lost without direction.
Warriors were struck down by arrows or clubs, while others engaged in fierce combat with their knives, culling the Ossits' destructive numbers.
The dimwitted Latonga made the error of choosing war chief Et-esh as his victim. Rising to the challenge, she vaulted upon his horse and pushed him off, pouncing savagely upon him. Knife in hand, snarl upon her lips, she slashed the startled Ossit's throat, reducing his war cry to a blood-choked gurgle. Enraged she plunged her knife into his heart. She had no time to luxuriate in scalp lifting as she saw the Ossit leader, Wee-keek-ook, in pursuit of the screeching Ojah who had no means of escape, his every turn blocked.
With practiced skill, Wee-keek-ook hauled his prize upon his mount.
Et-esh impeded his path of escape.
To prevent the war chief's contemplated assault, Wee-keek-ook pressed his knife against Ojah's throat. With his free hand, he ripped from his belt a long, multi-shelled Ossit earring tipped with a black feather, and tossed it at Et-esh's feet.
The war chief seized it.
"A present for Ohnaà!" he shouted. "She will know its meaning."
Wee-keek-ook barked orders to his remaining men to follow him at a gallop out of the Amazoni village ignoring the bodies of his fallen comrades and abandoning the keening Amazoni to their losses--the successful kidnap of Ojah his only concern.
Ohnaà, topping the ledge overlooking her village, was infuriated by the sight of staggering warriors, bodies, and the wailing of mourners. Her fruitless hunt forgotten, she slapped Appaloosa into a gallop with her carbine's barrel, and reined up in a cloud of dust beside Et-esh kneeling beside war chief Chooka, who had been knocked senseless by an Ossit stone war club to the head. Dismounting as she gazed upon Ossit and Amazoni bodies, her jaw muscles quivered as she gritted her teeth.
Et-esh displayed the long black feather-tipped multi-shelled Ossit earring.
"The warrior leading the attack stole Ojah. He said you--"
A nearby wounded Ossit groaned. Ohnaà stamped up to the fallen man, shoved her carbine barrel into the man's open mouth and callously pulled the trigger.
Et-esh joined her friend. She held up the long Ossit multi-shelled black feather-tipped earring. "The warrior leading the attack stole Ojah," she repeated. "He said you would know its meaning."
Ohnaà snatched the ornament. Growling, she crushed it, sifting its pieces through her fingers.
"You remember many seasons ago when I journeyed to the Ossit dogs to rescue the Ohsaahgan woman, Nahchinka, and killed her captor?"
"His relatives have finally grown brave enough to seek vengeance upon me. We will tend our wounded and dead. We will discard the Ossit filth littering our grounds. Then, I shall ride to the Ossit."
"You cannot Ohnaà! Many can still ride."
"Putting Ojah in greater danger. To my enemies I am more dangerous than a hundred Amazoni, so I need no help."
Et-esh opened her mouth to voice further protest only to be cut off by Ohnaà's upraised hand. "I go alone," she barked.
Et-esh stared in mute shock as Ohnaà stomped away.
At first light, Ohnaà began her trek to the hated gray-skinned Ossit. For days she rode, covering dried prairie, grasslands, evaporated river beds and canyon corridors to the rocky terrain of the Ossit, whose camp of domed brush lodges nestled below a rocky ledge. Briskly walking Appaloosa into camp, Ohnaà attracted stocky warriors, rat-eyed children, and grass-skirted, poly-braided, gold ring pierced, topless women, their bare feet coated with chalky dust. She halted within the camp's heart and dismounted.
"Who dares steal what is mine?"
"I dare!" a warrior snarled parting from the crowd.
Ohnaà inspected the barefoot and loinclothed, handsome and tall, muscular gray-skinned warrior with crow feather dressed scalplock; her eyes drawn to his shoulder-length multi-shelled earrings tipped with white down feathers.
"You gave Et-esh the earring."
"I crushed it, as I shall do you for stealing Ojah," Ohnaà hissed.
"You, Shesh-Amazoni, have finally met your match."
"How are you called, insolent Ossit?"
The warrior proudly thumped a fist to his chest.
"I am Wee-kee-kook, brother of Husuke. It was his earring I left as a present."
"I remember him well. His hair hangs from my scalp pole. Yours will hang from my lance.
"I will see Ojah."
Wee-keek-ook folded his arms across his chest.
"I will tear apart your brush lodges with my bare hands to find him."
For what seemed an eternity, the adversaries glared at each other.
"Bring the prisoner," Wee-keek-ook commanded a warrior.
Hands bound, face bruised from a recent beating, Ojah was led forward by a horse hair leash.
"Who beats you my mate?" Ohnaà roared.
Ojah pointed to Wee-keek-ook.
In rage, Ohnaà reached for her knife. Before she could unsheathe it, she was knocked unconscious from behind by a rock wielding brave.
Ojah had no chance to get to his fallen mate. He was yanked back by the guard clutching his leash.
"Ohnaà will join you in my lodge."
Wee-keek-ook smiled as he watched Ojah being yanked like a reluctant horse and Ohnaà being dragged by two warriors, the tops of her moccasined toes slicing deep furrows in the dusty ground, her bulk taking its toll upon her two bearers.
Hours crawled by before Ohnaà awoke, agonized by the blow to her head but expertly concealing her pain. Bound hand and foot, she took comfort in Wee-keek-ook's order that she be housed with Ojah.
"What will happen now?"
"Wee-keek-ook will fight me."
Evening ushered in a young grass-skirted Ossit woman, her thousands of thin red berry-stained braids hanging like stiff ropes to her gray-skinned shoulders, her topless, gold ring-pierced body offensive to the Amazoni eye. Armed with a bowl of charred lizard, Ossit Woman knelt before Ohnaà.
"You are ordered to eat."
"Ojah, too, will eat."
"This is only for you."
"Ojah does not eat, I will not."
"I will be beaten if you disobey!"
"That is no concern to me."
"You, Shesh-Amazoni, are an uncaring beast. When you fight in the morning, I hope you die!"
Ohnaà laughed her derision.
Tossing aside her bowl of lizard, Ossit Woman vented her rage upon Ojah and backhanded him.
Rolling to her knees, ignoring her bound ankles, Ohnaà pounced upon Ossit Woman, employing her bound arms as a noose.
Ossit Woman struggled against the brawny warrior's one-armed choke hold. "You are foolish to think that because I am tied I will not strike," she hissed tightening her grip. "For attacking Ojah, you deserve death."
Ossit Woman's thrashing grew weaker.
"Do you wish this woman to die, Ojah?"
Ossit Woman ceased struggling.
"No, my warrior. I have no hatred toward her."
Ohnaà flung Ossit Woman aside as if she were a Trader rag doll. Calmly seating herself, she watched Ossit Woman clutch her throat, hoarsely sucking in air.
"Be grateful you live, Ossit, because of Ojah's kindness."
Ossit Woman ran out of the lodge.
Ohnaà protectively sidled closer to Ojah.
"If only you could break your bonds, we could escape."
"I can, but will not. You would not make it, and I will not risk your safety."
Ojah leaned his head against Ohnaà, grateful for her consideration.
At midmorning, a warrior entered Wee-kee-kook's lodge sheltering Ohnaà and Ojah. Drawing his knife he kneeled before Ohnaà and sliced loose her wrist and ankle bonds. "Come," he grunted and escorted her to the same grassy area where seasons before she had killed Wee-kee-kook's brother, Husuke.
The Ossit people sat in a wide circle glaring at Ohnaà, who stood in its center with folded arms, staring into space.
After a considerable, annoying wait, Wee-kee-kook swaggered into the circle clutching a foot-long rawhide rope. Without a word he tied one end of the rope around his gray right wrist. Grabbing Ohnaà's right wrist, he cuffed it with the rope's other end.
"Ah yah! This is an Ossit game? I like games. I am very playful."
Wee-kee-kook was unamused by Ohnaà's sarcasm.
"I am also good with either hand, Ossit."
Wee-kee-kook drew his knife.
Her eyes glittering dangerously, yet smiling amicably, Ohnaà drew her blade. "A stabbing contest. That is a good game." Her smile melted into a ferocious scowl.
Wee-kee-kook shoved Ohnaà. "In the name of my brother, Husuke," he snarled, "it will be a pleasure to kill you, Shesh-Amazoni. Your Ojah will be my slave and trophy."
Taking advantage of her short wrist leash, with a growl, Ohnaà rolled to the ground yanking Wee-kee-kook down with her and pounced on him. Both rolled over and over, straining to plunge a knife into the other's heart, stretching the rope that bound them.
The crowd watched in stoic silence as their leader fought the most powerful and ferocious warrior ever to walk the earth.
Atop Ohnaà Wee-kee-kook pounded her jaw in hopes of weakening her, compensating for his vastly inferior strength.
The Ossit's blows split skin and drew blood. In retaliation, she poked Wee-kee-kook's left eye out with her knife. Howling in anguish, he grabbed his face, granting Ohnaà the opportunity to deliver a punch to his belly that knocked him off her.
Teeth bared, she wrenched the screaming Wee-kee-kook to his feet by his scalplock and rammed her knife to the hilt into his throat. Withdrawing her blade she slashed the rope that secured her to the Ossit's body. Swiftly she relieved him of his scalplock and tied it to her waistband's scalpcord. Sheathing her blade, she stalked to her vanquished opponent's domed brush lodge to retrieve Ojah who was shocked by the sight of his battered mate who rapidly untied him.
The warrior grinned."I look a lot worse than I feel." She gently assisted Ojah to his feet. "Our people await your return."
"You will go directly to Medicine Woman for healing."
Ohnaà's answer was to hug her beloved.