|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|
Ohnaà and war chief Et-esh sat outside the corral staring at the stubborn white stallion. Exhausted and aching, they had finished exchanging turns upon the horse that defiantly resisted their efforts to ride him.
"I have broken many horses," Et-esh breathlessly complained, "with many resistant to weight upon their backs, but this one is too determined. If neither of us can ride him, he cannot be."
"Any horse can be ridden, young one."
"Tell him that!"
Ohnaà gingerly fingered a new bruise upon her left forearm.
"You give up too easily."
Et-esh massaged the back of her stiff neck. "Easily?" she retorted. "We have been trying almost a season! This one is not worth a broken neck."
"Some mighty horse breaker you are."
"I am a mighty horse breaker, not a stupid one."
"Sooner or later, he will yield."
"I prefer sooner."
The warriors painfully eased to their feet.
"I am hungry. Dukwukka will have to warm up some stew."
"And tend your busied ego."
Perking up, Et-esh grinned wickedly. "Amongst other things," she hinted with a wink.
The friends parted company. Observing their departure, the triumphant white stallion gloated with a nicker. Advertising victory over his Amazoni captors, he pompously trotted the circumference of the corral, tossing his head, flapping his blanched tail, and kicking up his heels. A bully at heart, he bumped his way through the herd nipping a neck or two in passing.
Ohnaà studied her throbbing forearm and decided to visit Medicine Woman. Kneeling before the shaman's herb perfumed fire, she extended her throbbing arm.
"Where did you acquire this?"
"A horse Et-esh and I try to break."
Medicine Woman's probing caused Ohnaà to wince.
"I find no break."
"Ah yah! The way you touch you will put one in."
"Do not tell me how to examine, warrior, or your wish may come true," Medicine Woman scolded.
Ohnaà eased her arm from the healer's grasp.
"Your bruise is the least of your worries. Soon you will encounter a greater challenge than a stubborn horse. You have an important decision to make."
"That you will make one is all I know."
"All you will say," Ohnaà grumbled.
Medicine Woman raised a gnarly hand in farewell.
Deep in thought about the shaman's cryptic prophecy, the warrior ambled to her tepee. Entering she half-heartedly returned the greeting of Ojah's hug as her mind feverishly chewed upon Medicine Woman's increasingly annoying puzzle. Striding to her high fur bed she retrieved her nearby honing bar. She methodically scraped her knife's broad edge across it, her increasing stress over the shaman's clairvoyance darkening her mood.
Taken aback by is contemplative warrior's unexpected preoccupation, Ojah approached and seized the honing bar, defiantly concealing it behind his back.
"Return what is mine, Ojah," Ohnaà demanded her voice low and dangerous.
Ojah vehemently shook his head.
Roughly snatching Ojah's arm, Ohnaà ripped the honing bar from his grasp.
"Never have you put hands upon me in such a manner!" Ojah hollered. "What has gotten into you!"
Ohnaà jammed her knife into its sheath. "It is not your place to demand ownership of my every thought," she growled.
"Then I will find out in other ways," Ojah vowed and stormed out.
Barging into Et-esh's lodge, Ojah stamped past Dukwukka seated in his corner sewing beads upon a moccasin to the war chief seated before her fire repairing a grass halter.
"We must talk."
Et-esh set aside her work, unruffled by her caller's harsh tone.
"Ohnaà is not herself today. She did not hug me with her usual passion, she honed her knife which did not need it, and she became rough with me when I took away her honing bar."
"A warrior's possessions are not to be handled by others, Ojah."
"That is not the point."
"What is your point? I have things to do."
"In all the season we have been joined, never has she shown such fury toward me. What fills her with such rage?"
"You must know something. Ohnaà tells you everything!" Ojah exploded.
"We spoke only about a difficult horse."
"Then you must find out what she refuses to tell me."
Et-esh retrieved her grass halter.
"I cannot help you."
Exasperated, Ojah stormed out.
"Why will you not help Ojah?" Dukwukka quizzed.
"It is not my place to meddle in mate disputes. Ojah will have to find his answers elsewhere."
Ojah interrupted Medicine Woman's meditation.
"We must talk."
"I see I have no choice."
"Ohnaà is not herself today, treating me unkindly. Has she come to you?"
"After falling from a horse, she needed a bruise tended."
"That is not all," Ojah pressed.
"I told her that soon she needs to make an important decision. The spirits told me nothing more."
"You provoked Ohnaà, who takes her anger out on me."
"I control no one's actions, Ojah. If her storm continues, stay with friends if you must. Pressing her will accomplish nothing."
All angry wind sucked from his sails, Ojah left.
Ojah returned to find Ohnaà seated at the fire smoking her pipe and sat beside her.
Exhaling pipe smoke the warrior turned to her mate.
"I have spoken to Medicine Woman, who opened my eyes on what troubles you. Forgive me for questioning you too closely. I should have known better. It is my hope that you will not remain angry with me."
Her stern features softening, Ohnaà set aside her pipe.
"All is forgiven."
Ojah breathed a sigh of relief.
"I have hunger."
"I will warm up some stew."
"Food is not my hunger."
Ohnaà slowly rose, gently took Ojah by the hand, and eased him to his feet. Swallowing him in a firm embrace, she immersed herself within his loving hug. After what seemed an eternity, she released him, guiding him to the high fur bed.
Their intense coupling complete, snuggled against her, his head notched against her throat, Ojah was lulled to slumber by the warrior's deep breathing.
The Shesh rider entered Amazoni land, bare feet pounding against his lathered horse's heaving ribs, shimmering purple headscarf damp with sweat, long ebon hair throbbing to the rhythm of the horse's pounding gait. Like aquatic Snap Jaws drawn to shed blood, three scowling Amazoni scouts appeared from nowhere and intercepted him.
"I go to see Ohnaà."
"What does a lowly Shesh need with her?"
"There has been an accident with her birth parents."
"I have been sent to tell her."
"Ohnaà has better things to listen to," the scout commander growled.
"That is for her to decide, not a lowly scout!" the Shesh retorted.
The scout boss menacingly inched closer.
"If it pleases you to kill me, Amazoni, I am easy pickings, defenseless without weapons. It would do you well, however, not to lose sight of the fact that if I do not arrive home in a set number of days, others will take my place until Ohnaà receives the message. She will not be pleased to learn of messengers killed, in light of the peace she forged long ago between our nations. You do not look the type who would enjoy her wrath."
The patrol leader shifted uneasily upon her mount, embarrassed at being reminded of her tahna's feat.
The Shesh went on his way at a rapid clip.
Truce or no truce, the Amazoni scout despised Shesh, spitting her contempt. Curtly she signaled the patrol to continue their rounds.
Bridle in hand, Ohnaà entered the corral and approached the stubborn white stallion, forcing him to accept the bridle.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Et-esh asked.
"Today this one will yield, young one."
Vaulting upon the stallion's back, Ohnaà grasped the reins tight and weathered the animal's thrashing. Around and around the corral she went, her strong legs squeezed tightly against the determined animal's ribs. Gradually tiring, the ivory stallion grew weaker until he meekly submitted to Ohnaà's leg pressure to canter across the corral.
Et-esh yelped a shrill shout at her friend's victory.
Grinning the warrior dismounted and surrendered the reins to her friend.
Flapping foam from his lips, the exhausted stallion vacuumed in mighty gulps of air.
"I told you today he would give in."
"As always you are right, and I, stupid for not listening. When fully trained he is yours, my friend. You have certainly earned him."
"It was you who caught him, it is only you who can train him like no other, and it is you who should keep him, young one."
"Very well. But anytime you wish to use him, he is yours."
"Hoashkà dightso. I thank you."
Hungry from her exertion, Ohnaà ambled to her tepee for a bowl of Ojah's tasty venison stew and related the surrender of the stallion.
"I hope Et-esh has no hard feelings over your breaking the horse."
"She is above such pettiness."
Midway through the dessert of spiced white bark pudding, a warrior interrupted.
"A Shesh wishes to see you."
Ohnaà set aside her bowl. "Send him in," she curtly ordered. She turned to Ojah. "I do not want you near this Shesh."
Ojah gladly resituated himself in a corner.
The messenger ventured no further than just beyond the tepee entrance.
"I am called Die-co-da-hem from the Northern Shesh. I bring a message that your parents, shamans Beeshko and Geesaday, were killed by a rockslide a day ago. In three days they will be buried. You are to attend their last honors." Having done his duty, Die-co-da-hem took his leave.
Resenting the Shesh command, Ohnaà wordlessly departed for Medicine Woman's lodge and joined her near the fire.
"A Shesh messenger informs me of the death of my real parents and bids me to attend."
"A sad misfortune, these deaths."
"The whole matter is of no importance."
Medicine Woman frowned at such callousness.
"If this were so, the messenger would have been dismissed as easily as an annoying fly. The mere mention of your real parents touches something deep within you that--"
"You know nothing of what touches me!"
"I know you better than you know yourself," Medicine Woman reprimanded. "If you do not wish my council on the matter, do not waste my time complaining to me. Whine to someone else."
"I dare," the shaman exploded, "what I have always dared. I will never speak what you wish to hear and--"
Ohnaà stormed out of the medicine tepee, and without notice, stomped past Et-esh. Observing the shaman standing at her door, the war chief joined her.
"What was that all about?"
"A Shesh told Ohnaà of her parents' death, commanding her to attend their last honors. When she refused my council, I told her to whine to someone else. She left in a rage, cutting me off in mid sentence."
"I will speak to her."
"Anger shuts her ears to reason."
"She will hear me."
Et-esh went in search of her angry comrade and found her seated against a corral post.
"We will talk."
"Leave me alone, young one!"
"I will not be so easily dismissed," Et-esh retorted.
Ohnaà heaved an irritated sigh.
"You told Medicine Woman about the Shesh inviting you to their camp for your parents' funeral."
Ohnaà scowled, embittered that the shaman held nothing in confidence. "I owe my blood parents nothing," she insisted.
"For giving you life, you owe them the respect of attending," Et-esh corrected harshly. "Pursuing Medicine Woman to hear your thoughts, you owe her the listening of her wise council. You owe your people in upholding Amazoni honor by going."
"Honor to Shesh? Ah yah!"
"Do we not honor the peace you forged long ago with them? Ignore the Shesh request because of foolish pride, a people we no longer fight, even I will turn away from you. I will stand beside no warrior I hold no respect for."
Et-esh stalked away.
Stung by the war chief's words, a tear inched down Ohnaà's dark cheek. Sunset descended before she roused herself to walk to Et-esh's tepee and lifted its door flap to peer in. Et-esh who was enjoying a smoke after a hearty dinner, inclined her head, permitting Ohnaà's entrance. She sat opposite the relaxed Et-esh who handed the pipe to her. She inhaled deeply before returning it.
"I have thought hard upon your words, young one. I will go to Shesh. Will you join me?"
"Before we go, I must speak with Medicine Woman."
Midmorning, both armed with bow and quiver, Ohnaà led the way to the medicine lodge. They stood before Medicine Woman as she sat upon her bed carving a wooden bear talisman.
"I seek forgiveness for my outburst, shaman."
Medicine Woman in inclined her head in acceptance.
"Et-esh has consented to ride with me to the Shesh."
"It is rare to have such a stalwart friend. Good journey to you both."
The warriors departed.
For hours, Shesh-Amazoni tahna and war chief rode leisurely across the grassland.
Pale eyes glittering mischievously, Et-esh urged her sleepy-eyed buckskin into a gallop. "My grandmother was faster than your old horse is!" she yelled.
Swiftly overtaking Et-esh's fleet buckskin, Ohnaà balanced upon Appaloosa's speckled back. Turning to face her friend, she wiggled fingers at her temples and stuck out her tongue.
Lowering herself with practiced ease, the grinning Et-esh expertly shifted from one side to the other of her buckskin holding on with only one hand grasping mane and a heel. Tiring of the trick, she flung herself upright.
Not to be outdone, Ohnaà performed multiple front flips. With an ear-shattering shriek, she leaped to the ground. Miraculously keeping stride with her galloping stallion, she hurled herself upon his back. Naturally faster she loved showing off.
The warriors halted their lathered chargers in a dense grove. Instantly they dropped their hungry heads to rip up mouthfuls of tender grass.
"That was a fun game, daughter of Codot."
Nodding, Ohnaà unshouldered her bow.
"I will find a nice plump rabbit. Do not overwork yourself making the fire to roast it."
"Just make sure you leave more than bones for me to pick clean since I am so generous in sharing the rabbit with you."
Grinning, Ohnaà headed off.
Reasoning that it would be a while before Ohnaà returned, Et-esh stretched upon her back and closed her eyes. Moments later she was startled awake, unable to breathe. Bolting upright a huge rabbit carcass tumbled off her face. Ohnaà howled with laughter.
"I will get even with you for that!"
"If you do not build a fire to eat this fine rabbit, you will have no strength to do anything."
Flushed with embarrassment, Et-esh went foraging for wood, Ohnaà's boisterous laughter burning her ears.
As the sun began to set, Ohnaà tossed the last rabbit bone into the low fire. She rolled and lit two cigarettes handing one to Et-esh. Watching the ebbing fire, the war chief made short work of her cigarette, exhaling pungent fumes through her nostrils. Ohnaà lingered over her smoke.
Settling into her bedroll, Et-esh fell asleep instantly.
Lulled by the chorus of Et-esh's snoring, Ohnaà dashed her glowering cigarette nub into the embers and turned in.
A Shesh warrior intercepted the Amazoni two days into their expedition.
"I was sent to escort the mighty Ohnaà."
"I have not forgotten where your camp is."
The Shesh glared at Et-esh. "The funeral of Ohnaà's parents are for her eyes only," he growled.
"It was Et-esh's wisdom that convinced me to attend," Ohnaà countered.
"It was the elders who decided--"
"Their decrees mean nothing to me, scout. Without Et-esh I will go no further."
With a savage kick to his horse's ribs, the surly Shesh rode away.
At twilight the following day, the Amazoni riders rode into the Northern Shesh encampment of high-rise clay lodges. Two middle-aged Greeters blocked their path.
"If you will follow me I will escort you to the lodge of Ohnaà's parents."
Dismounting, the warriors surrendered their steeds to the second Greeter.
The warriors followed the first Greeter to the domed clay lodge of the late shamans Beeshko and Geesahday. Without a word the Greeter abandoned them.
Ohnaà and Et-esh sat before the empty fire pit, neither acknowledging the trappings of sacred masks and medicinal pouches hanging upon the walls.
An ancient, barefoot Shesh clad in faded and stained hide shirt and pants, shuffled in.
"I am Novo-goo, tahna of this band, cousin of Tamachee, whom you forged our peace long ago when he was tahna. I have heard much about you, Shesh-Amazoni. Indeed, you are an accomplished warrior and leader."
"My reluctant duty to those who gave birth to me adds to those accomplishments."
"I had hoped attending the funeral of Beeshko and Geesahday would be more than a reluctant duty."
"To say otherwise would be a lie."
"Amazoni honesty is as sharp as a honed knife. But it is good. Shesh would not respect you if you came with a false heart. After you are provided with food and drink, we will speak again."
Stricken with arthritic knees, Novo-goo painfully shuffled out.
Following the meal of undercooked venison stew, which the Amazoni visitors ate of sparingly and weak tea, tahna Novo-goo returned.
"Your parents' burial will commence when the sun is high tomorrow. As the daughter of Beeshko and Geesahday, you will of course shed your skins. I will prepare you further by greasing and painting your body."
"Why must I go naked?" Ohnaà demanded.
"As one's spirit leaves the body in death, it is our custom that the shedding of clothes by the immediate family helps the spirit soar to the spirit land. You will speak parting words to them. When the burial is complete and you have bathed in the lake, you and your friend may stay for the feast or depart. Do you have any questions?"
Ohnaà shook her head.
"Good. No one will bother you until tomorrow when you will be prepared. You are of course welcome to walk among us."
"We have no need to mix with your people."
"As you wish."
"Having Shesh hands upon me is worse than eating their stew."
When the sun was high the next day, Novo-goo, armed with two heaping bowls of venison stew, oversized hide bag strapped over a shrunken shoulder, entered the two deceased shamans' domed clay lodge sheltering the Amazoni warriors.
"We are not hungry, old one," Ohnaà stated.
Setting aside the foul smelling stew, tahna Novo-goo signaled Ohnaà to rise.
Novo-goo removed from his shoulder bag a corked glass bottle filled with thick yellow grease.
Shedding her skins and stoically staring ahead, Ohnaà endured the repulsive sensation of calloused hands greasing her dark muscled physique. Et-esh wrinkled her nose at the putrid stench.
Tossing aside the bottle, dipping into his bag, Novo-goo removed a pouch. Repeatedly he scooped an oily gnarled finger into it, dislodging a thick white paste which he plastered on Ohnaà's cheeks in thick vertical bars. From throat to muscled belly was smeared a thick line. Down each thigh and from shoulder to wrist was drawn a jagged thunderbolt. The old man stepped back to admire his artwork. "The lines drawn down your face," he explained, "symbolize tears for the departed. The line down your middle symbolizes the endless cycle of death and rebirth. Jagged lines down your arms and legs symbolize the twisting paths you have walked through the seasons." Wiping his painted finger clean upon his stained pants, Novo-goo once again plunged into his bag, removing another pouch, its beads worn and cracked with many missing. Opening the pouch he sprinkled a fine dust of crushed yellow seeds upon Ohnaà's head. "This symbolizes that you are one with all growing things that begin as a seed, grow in strength and wisdom with each season, returning to earth in death, only to be reborn as another seed."
Ohnaà cared little about the allegory behind her ceremonial trappings. All she wanted was to be done with the whole mess as quickly as possible and return home.
"We are ready."
The Amazoni guests followed Novo-goo to the southwest fringe of camp before a rippling lake, an area lushly carpeted with green grass and wildflowers. The Shesh people somberly waited beside the grave. Beside it, tightly wrapped in stiff skins painted the same as Ohnaà, rested the bodies of shamans Beeshko and Geesahday. Novo-goo melted into the crowd as unseen drummers began a slow rhythmic pulse.
Gazing skyward, Ohnaà raised muscular arms.
"Sky People of Shesh. I, Ohnaà, warrior of the Amazoni, daughter of Codot and E-flet, have come to pay my respects to shamans Beeshko and Geesahday who gave me life. I did not know them. Sent by the spirits of my people to meet them, they were kind. May they rest in peace."
Lowering her arms, Ohnaà faced the Shesh crowd, her gaze locking upon Novo-goo, who nodded approval of her words.
Shesh began to sing as the bodies were lowered into the grave and buckets of dirt tossed into the hole.
"You spoke well, my friend."
"I feel no grief in their passing, young one," the warrior confessed. "My words were empty."
"No, daughter of Codot. One who speaks their true feelings does not speak empty words." Et-esh sniffed the air. "Hurry and wash. A dead animal smells better than you."
Grinning, Ohnaà led the way to the lake.
Refreshed and smelling human again, Ohnaà emerged from the lake to Et-esh.
"Find the horses, young one. I will meet you at the shamans' lodge."
Et-esh was off like a shot.
Clothed, Ohnaà slipped on her moccasins while acknowledging with a curt nod a chubby girl of thirteen seasons who entered the domed clay medicine lodge. The girl sat in front of her to watch.
"Have you never seen one put on moccasins before?"
"I have never seen you do it."
"I do it no differently than anyone else."
"But you are special to me."
Rapidly donning her bow and quiver, Ohnaà failed to notice the child's admiration. Despite her bulk, the child leaped to her feet with amazing ease.
"I am your cousin, Wee-wee-toot."
"I greet you. I go home now."
Wee-wee-toot blocked Ohnaà's passage to the door.
"I was hoping you would give me a farewell hug."
"You will not leave me alone until you get it."
"I always get what I want."
Ohnaà narrowed her eyes.
"To be rid of you I will do better than hug, meaty one."
Slinging the plump child over a massive shoulder, the warrior stalked out of the lodge, past Et-esh and the horses waiting outside who followed, past crossing Shesh, past the new grave. With a grunt she hurled Wee-wee-toot into the lake. Et-esh grinned in watching the sputtering and flailing child.
"And you say I get into trouble?"
"She says she is my cousin and would not leave me alone. Instead of the farewell hug she expected, I gave the pest the entire lake."
Sinking below the surface and resurfacing with a screech, Wee-wee-toot hurled a stream of expletives at Ohnaà.
"You should rescue her."
Smirking, Ohnaà watched Wee-wee-toot dip below the surface.
Shesh laughed as the child bobbed up for air to yell at the top of her lungs before sinking again.
"Another funeral the same day is not good for Shesh-Amazoni relations, Ohnaà."
The warrior thoughtfully rubbed her chin.
"I suppose not. Very well. I will rescue her."
Ohnaà retrieved the soggy Wee-wee-toot and deposited her gently upon the grass. Instead of words of thanks, the child hurled another torrent of curses. To silence her, Ohnaà stuffed a fistful of grass into her mouth to the cheers of the watching crowd.
"Can we go now?" Et-esh asked.
Chuckling, Ohnaà nodded.