|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|
Seated opposite Ohnaà before the low lodge fire, Ojah watched his warrior adding finishing brush strokes of black paint to the finger-sized wooden carving of a horse, one of many figures she enjoyed making as gifts and toys.
"It is beautiful, my warrior."
Ohnaà set aside her finished figure.
"Who will you give it to?"
"Et-esh of course."
Tending to her pipe Ohnaà opened her bulging waist tobacco pouch. Crushing Trader tobacco between thumb and index finger, she trickled the grounds into the pipe's narrow cup and ignited it with a burning twig and puffed gently the bitter smoke.
"Are you hungry, my warrior?"
Exhaling smoke Ohnaà shook her head.
"Where do you go, my mate?"
"To visit my brother."
Finishing her smoke, Ohnaà frowned as she tapped the ashes into the fire.
"I was hoping to enjoy your company."
Ojah brightened for it had been ages since he and Ohnaà had spent an afternoon together.
"I would like that much better."
"You would enjoy the forest with me?"
"I would go anywhere with you."
Flashing a dazzling smile, Ohnaà gently encased Ojah's small pale hand within her huge dark one.
Mounted Appaloosa, Ojah clinging tightly against her, Ohnaà cantered toward the forest not far from camp.
The day was perfect for the outing. A temperate breeze rustled the flaxen waist-high grassland; not a cloud marred the bright turquoise sky. Unseen birds, frogs and Harmony bugs sprinkled the air with mating chirps. The Amazoni couple penetrated the lush forest, slowing to a walk. Disturbed by Appaloosa's hoofs a mouse dashed through a broad-leafed bush only to be entwined in the waiting, crushing coils of a baby silver pebble snake. Unhinging its jaws, the snake gradually engulfed the hapless mouse. Content, the reptile slithered away in search of a dark crevice to digest its meal.
Piercing deeper the tangle of tree, bush and leaf litter, the Amazoni riders halted beside a fallen tree trunk, its sides barnacled with stiff white fungi and blue-green moss. Its roots long gone, the gaping hole supported a dust coated web, its center sheltering a three-inch, nine-legged bright orange spider.
Ohnaà dismounted and helped Ojah down. She sat upon the tree stump, draping muscular legs over the stump's hidden spider web. Ojah assumed his place upon crunchy leaves before his warrior.
He cocked his head.
"I hear nothing."
"That is what is good about our forest. It is a place of peace. Often I take advantage of that, coming here to think."
Its four eyes fixated upon the back of Ohnaà's legs draped over its silken web, the bright orange spider defensively twitched its gleaming black fangs.
Delving into her ration pouch, Ohnaà produced two nuggets of jerked boar meat, handing one to Ojah. Her shifting weight upon the rotted tree trunk generated vibrations agitating the hidden spider. Bunching up its nine legs it sprang, planting its fangs through the Shesh-Amazoni's left knee-high moccasin into her calf. Ohnaà leaped from her seat. Despite her crushing slap, the spider held fast. Ojah shrieked, watching his mate collapse and writhe upon the leaf-littered ground clutching her throat unable to breathe. With a choked sigh, she lay still.
Ojah burst into sobs.
Ohnaà's spirit image materialized beside him. "Why do you cry, my mate?" she asked reaching to comfort, only to view her hand dissolve into Ojah's shoulder. Startled, she jerked her hand away. Moving around Ojah to get a clearer view, her eyes widened as she observed him shaking her earthly body, repeatedly screeching her name.
A tall, brawny warrior, whose tawny sidelock was adorned with three raven fathers, gradually coalesced beside Ohnaà.
"Codot it is good to see you!"
Ignoring pleasantries, Codot eyed her adopted daughter's mortal remains cradled in the wailing Ojah's arms.
"You have taken the bite of the Koyoday spider because you do not watch where you sit."
"I am dead then."
"You are in the Between Place for now."
For a moment Codot stared hard at Ojah.
"He will know what to do now."
Wiping dry his tears Ojah dashed into the forest to forage for vines and sturdy branches.
"I am ready to follow you into the spirit land to rejoin those I have loved and lost."
"How easily you relinquish a life that has been good to you."
"I have witnessed enough in my long life and Amazoni can well live without me."
"You underestimate your great worth to your people."
Unimpressed, Ohnaà shrugged massive mahogany-skinned shoulders.
"Did it not occur to you that you are in the Between Place for a reason? My spirit brethren decree that there are lessons for you to learn before you tread the spirit path."
"Ah yah! Yet another test," Ohnaà groused.
"Have you become that hardened that you question the spirits' wisdom all of a sudden?" Codot rebuked.
"No, my mother."
"Then it is agreed that you will follow the course chosen for you."
Sighing tiredly, Ohnaà inclined her head.
Codot lowered her spirit image cross-legged to the leafy ground to await Ojah's return. Joining her mother, Ohnaà studied her physical body with cool detachment.
Obeying Codot's instructions, Ojah rapidly assembled a travois.
"Your mate is quite efficient, daughter."
"Does he know you speak to him?"
"He assumes he is calm enough to think of constructing the travois."
Fastening the travois to Appaloosa, Ojah wrestled his warrior's brawny body upon it.
The Amazoni apparitions rose as one.
"It is a long walk to camp."
"We will be there as your mate arrives and accompany those who will take you to Medicine Woman."
"She will know we are there."
"Not this time."
Gradually Ohnaà and Codot vanished.
Dejected, Ojah led Appaloosa out of the forest, the travois poles hissing along dried leaves, clunking over pebbles and thick sticks.
* * * * * *
Trailing the weeping Ojah as he led his cargo toward Medicine Woman's tepee, Amazoni burst into shrill keening. Sinking to her knees in grief, war chief Chooka drew her knife. Materializing before her, Codot and Ohnaà observed the sobbing warrior slice off lengthy chunks of flaxen hair.
"I have never seen my people mourn with such fury. Make them stop!" Ohnaà commanded.
"Their grief is beyond a spirit's control. Come."
Her legs feeling like logs of heavy Trader iron, Ohnaà followed Codot, abandoning the bereaved Chooka.
Dissolving through the hide walls of Medicine Woman's tepee, Ohnaà and Codot witnessed a sobbing Et-esh and another gently rest their tahna upon soft furs.
Ojah kneeled beside Ohnaà. "You are my life, my warrior," he lamented. "Come back to me! Please come back to me!"
Unanswered, he unsheathed his knife, placing its glittering blade against his throat.
"No!" Ohnaà shouted.
It took the combined force of Et-esh and the assistant warrior to wrestle away Ojah's weapon.
"War chief," Medicine Woman quietly bade, "Take Ojah to his tepee. Stay with him until I can administer calming herbs."
Wiping dry her tears, Et-esh hefted the sobbing Ojah into muscular arms and departed, cleaving a path through a sea of lamenting Amazoni congregating outside.
While examining Ohnaà, Medicine Woman yanked free the crushed body of the deadly spider from her tahna's leg and tossed it into the fire. She closed the warrior's staring eyes. Tears oozed down her wrinkled cheeks as she reached for an elaborately painted bowl filled with water and a small square of calico cloth. Tenderly she swabbed her tahna's dark forehead, high cheekbones, thin nose, strong chin and silenced throat that housed the deep thunderous voice she adored. She eased her soaked cloth along Ohnaà's muscular arms that would never again heft a weapon in defense or the hunt, hug a loved one, or swing laughing children in play; lingering over the huge long fingered hands possessed of the extraordinary power to crush the tender throats of enemies yet the gentleness to nimbly carve wooden figures. Working down Ohnaà's muscled belly, Medicine Woman hummed a wordless chant, her voice cracking as she rinsed the warrior's powerful legs, thick as mighty tree trunks, that would no longer support her long confident stride. Respectfully she placed her tahna's hands upon her belly.
Annoyed by blurring tears, Ohnaà's spirit image blinked them into oblivion.
Leaving Ojah tranquilized by a soothing herb drink, Medicine Woman accompanied Et-esh to the medicine tepee trailed by the Amazoni specters of Codot and Ohnaà.
"I cannot believe Ohnaà is dead, shaman. My heart is broken beyond repair."
"You should tell her."
Wiping away a falling tear, Et-esh sniffed loudly.
"It would change nothing."
"Do not underestimate the power of the spirits to allow Ohnaà to hear your words, Et-esh. Perhaps you can convince her to rise from the dead."
"She did not listen to Ojah. She will not listen to me."
"You will not know unless you try."
For several feet the two walked in silence.
"Your people will want the rank of tahna to fall upon your shoulders."
"I will not accept the promotion for I am unworthy of the position."
"That is not so, young one," Ohnaà protested. "You would make a fine tahna." She turned to her mother. "I do not understand this! Why am I made out to be so irreplaceable? I do nothing that no tahna before me has not done."
"You surpass all tahna, daughter, with your fighting ability and wisdom."
"Ah yah!" Ohnaà hissed. "I do not believe that!"
Codot sighed with irritation at her daughter's stubborn modesty.
Medicine Woman and Et-esh entered the medicine lodge.
"Et-esh was always happy. I have never seen her so depressed."
"Her heart has been destroyed. She depended upon you for many things."
"Let us listen."
Sitting beside the bed furs, Et-esh stared long and hard upon her friend lying in state, ignoring the shaman beside her. She rested a heavy hand upon her comrade's huge hands resting upon her belly.
"All that I am I owe to you, Ohnaà, and I loved you as a sister. You were always there to give advice and your humor made me smile. I cannot count the times growing up when I defended you from those heaping insults upon you because you were born Shesh. Many a bloody nose and broken bone did I inflict protecting your honor. I knew you would not have approved had you known, preferring your mighty deeds to speak for you.
"You saved my life from the deadly Netta worm and rescued me from the Trader who captured and tortured me after he killed the sister of Cho-hot.
"Gladly would I trade my life if it would bring you back for all you have done for me. I--" Unable to maintain her stoic facade, Et-esh pressed her head against Ohnaà's chest and wept, oblivious to Medicine Woman's comforting hand upon her shoulder.
"We will next visit Ojah," Codot intoned.
In the blink of a mortal eye, the Amazoni ghosts coalesced beside the sleeping Ojah who was mumbling Ohnaà's name.
"Joined with Ojah fifty seasons, I thought I knew him. I had no idea he would try to kill himself over me."
"Without you to take care of and love he is empty."
"Et-esh can watch over him."
"She can watch Ojah die of a broken heart," Codot retorted. "Medicine Woman can watch Et-esh follow him."
Ohnaà shook her head in disbelief.
The next morning, Et-esh and a calmer Ojah rejoined Medicine Woman. Amazoni custom dictated the dead were to be painted and adorned and it was only fitting that, as mate, Ojah do the honors. Armed with Ohnaà's fur bag containing her paints, paint bowls, and ornaments, he mixed with care the Amazoni colors of red and black. With a steady finger he slathered thick bars of red and black vertically down Ohnaà's high cheek bones. Her forehead was thinly coated with red. Proudly, Ojah fastened the glistening choker of black gorak bird beaks about Ohnaà's neck.
"Ojah always liked that necklace."
"How quickly you forget that he collected the beaks and strung them for you."
"I did forget."
Ojah next drew out Ohnaà's favorite hair ornaments, gold dangles she had bought from Trader Joseph with five pelts of the rare red rabbit, and fastened them into his warrior's raven side locks.
"Ah yah! I wore many ornaments in my hair. How did he know my dangles are my favorite? I never told him."
"In his own way he knew."
Ojah tied the thin beaded cord he made about Ohnaà's colossal right bicep.
Chanting quietly, Medicine Woman set beside her a bowl of clear grease and tenderly spread the liquid upon Ohnaà's dark skin until it glistened.
Et-esh leaped to her feet. "For abandoning us, I will not do Ohnaà the honor of supervising her preparation!" she bellowed. "I will never forgive her for what she does to us. Never!" In a rage she stormed out.
"I must go to her."
"Et-esh is my friend!"
Ohnaà bolted out of the medicine lodge.
A smile tickled Codot's stern features, pleased that Ohnaà's heart was beginning to soften.
Standing outside Et-esh's tepee Ohnaà heard a commotion. Entering, she found the war chief tossing her bridles, halters, bow and quiver in all directions in a bitter rage, terrifying Dukwukka who huddled in a corner. It was the first time Ohnaà had ever witnessed such fury in the normally good-natured Et-esh.
Unsatisfied, breathing hard Et-esh stalked out, her destination the corral. Ohnaà ran to keep up. Leaping over the corral gate, Et-esh stormed up to the ivory stallion Ohnaà had helped to break and punched the animal in the jaw. Squealing in pain, the stallion shook his head.
"No, young one! Do not take your rage out upon him! Stop it!"
Et-esh unsheathed the thick-bladed, onyx-hilted knife Ohnaà had Trader Joseph buy for her in their trip to the city across the sea.
Codot materialized beside Ohnaà.
"That horse will die."
"No! Et-esh loves him!"
"Why should she anymore? He is a reminder of you. I read in her angry mind she intends to kill every horse you helped her with."
Ohnaà glared at Codot. "You must stop her. It will be a mistake she will regret when her heart cools."
"I cannot interfere."
"Allow me the power to appear before her."
"It is against the rules."
"I do not care! I must stop her madness!"
Codot inclined her head.
"It is done. She will see and hear you."
Ohnaà rushed behind the incensed Et-esh about to slit the terrified white stallion's throat.
"You must not do this young one. It is wrong!"
Whirling about, Et-esh was so shocked seeing the transparent image of her best friend that she dropped her knife.
"You must not hurt your beloved horses."
"I cannot bear to see those animals you helped break."
"They do not deserve death. You must spare them!"
Codot appeared beside Et-esh and touched her right temple with a finger.
Shaking her head, the confused war chief blinked. Suddenly exhausted, she stumbled out of the corral.
"What did you to do her?" Ohnaà demanded.
"You asked to appear and speak to her. You have done so. I have made it so she will not kill the horses because you selflessly went to the aid of a friend. But to maintain the river of free will among the living she must believe that she changed her own mind, and she will not remember your visit." Codot observed the darkening sky. "Time rapidly runs short in your spirit journey, daughter. You have until tomorrow to decide to rejoin the living or not. Choose your path wisely for it cannot be undone."
The next afternoon, a somber Medicine Woman, medicine purse over a shoulder, Ojah and Et-esh beside her, trudged behind four strong warriors supporting Ohnaà's ornamented and painted body upon their shoulders.
The procession joined Amazoni encircling the hastily constructed funeral pyre resting above a mound of kindling and brush beside the lake outside of camp. Two lit torches stood at the head of the pyre. Standing among the front row of people, Ohnaà and Codot watched the warriors carefully place the body upon the pyre and then melt into the crowd.
Following Medicine Woman as she assumed her place beside the pyre, Et-esh gripped Ojah's arm tightly so he would not collapse.
Chanting, Medicine Woman plunged into her purse for a pinch of purifying herbs and reverently sprinkled them upon Ohnaà's body. Leaning heavily against Et-esh, Ojah sobbed. The war chief hid her feelings behind a ferocious scowl.
Medicine Woman removed the torches from their places. Et-esh angrily grabbed hers. Ojah reached for his with a trembling hand.
A strong gust of wind tickled the torches' fiery heads.
Ohnaà turned to Codot.
"Know that I love and miss you with all my heart, my mother. But I cannot join you. I was foolish not to see how much I am loved and needed. Without your guidance I would not have learned this." The spirit warriors clasped wrists. "Tell my father that I love him and that when the time comes we will all be together."
"I will tell him."
Inhaling deeply, Ohnaà dove head first into her body.
Smiling, Codot disintegrated.
"It is time, Ojah," Medicine Woman reminded.
Inhaling deeply, Ohnaà sat up.
The people gasped in amazement.
Crying with joy, Ojah hugged his warrior's neck.
"Careful, Ojah. You might choke me to death."
Hefting a fist overhead, Et-esh screeched joyous war cries. The people answered with explosive war cries, trilling, and cheers. A shaken Medicine Woman mumbled a prayer of thanks, her conviction of Ohnaà's special rapport with the spirits strengthened, a rapport so deep it enabled her to return to the living.
Ohnaà stood unsteadily.
"I think I would like to take a nap in my own bed before my bath."
Et-esh and Ojah wrapped Ohnaà's muscled arms about their shoulders for support.
Followed by Amazoni, enveloped in song, Et-esh and Ojah guided their special tahna to her tepee.