|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|
Spring's nomadic clouds united with temperate breezes encouraged the Shesh-Amazoni Ohnaà to celebrate its arrival after the long winter. Ohnaà lay upon her back atop her beloved prairie's olive short-grass, hands folded behind her head, eyes closed, bow and quiver beside her. Nearby, Appaloosa mowed up mouthfuls of tender grass.
Sun's warmth upon the warrior's face coaxed sweat to dampen her bow.
Awash with the myriad of subtle scents discharged by the minute blossoms camouflaged within the prairie grass, Ohnaà ignored the vibration of hoofs drumming closer.
Armed with bow and quiver, war chief Et-esh mounted her sleepy-eyed buckskin reined up beside her resting friend.
"Spring spirits whisk you into another world I see. I could have been an avenging enemy swooping upon you."
Eyes remaining shut, Ohnaà grinned.
"If you were, young one, you would not be speaking to me."
"As relaxed as you are, how would you know?"
"I have ways."
Dismounting, Et-esh sat beside Ohnaà. The aimless clouds breaking loose and coalescing into new forms fascinated her enough to nudge her companion awake with a shake to the shoulder. She pointed to a huge contorted cloud.
"What does that remind you of?"
"Boar stew boiling over."
"My thought exactly. Spring makes a warrior think of food more often, does it not?"
"You always think of food, young one."
"We should do something about that."
Ohnaà closed her eyes.
"Let us appease my belly."
"Ah yah! You go."
Et-esh shook Ohnaà's broad mahogany-skinned shoulder. "Come with me," she insisted.
"I am busy."
"Busy my moccasin! Come with me."
Ohnaà's reply was an annoyed sigh.
Et-esh shook the warrior again.
Sitting up with a soft grunt, Ohnaà combed long fingers through her glistening, waist-length ebon mane, dislodging grass shavings, and mopped dry her sweaty brow with a massive forearm.
"Do I not even have a choice?"
Collecting her friend's bow and quiver, Et-esh piled them upon Ohnaà's lap.
"When I employ my irresistible charm I always get what I desire from you."
Standing Ohnaà donned her weapons.
"And as always, I am powerless to resist."
The warriors collected their grazing horses. Cantering side-by-side, the Amazoni rode for hours before crossing onto tawny grasslands.
"What should we hunt, Ohnaà?"
"We have not shared rabbit in a while."
"Rabbit is good. I am glad you did not suggest snake. You know I hate snake."
"You never did say why."
"Snake tastes like gristle. My late father never cooked it right because he refused to trim it. He poisoned me against ever eating it again."
"Ojah prepares good snake. One day I will ask him to give you a gift of some. You will never realize what you are eating and would not dare refuse as I will be there to make sure you try it."
"Dukwukka was right about you. You are evil."
The warriors laughed at the joke.
Treading their grassland, the Amazoni hunters spied their meal in a puppy-size black rabbit contentedly munching purple blossoms. Wiggling its nose, the rabbit bounded away from his trackers. Reins dropped, bow loaded, Ohnaà pursued the madly zigzagging rabbit.
Pulling ahead, Et-esh launched her arrow into her prey's spine. Bounding off her buckskin and replacing her arrow into her quiver, she lifted her lunch by its long ears.
"A fine catch," Ohnaà observed, shouldering her bow.
"The forest is not far. You can gather wood to cook it. If you are a good enough wood gatherer, you will be amply rewarded with a big piece."
Ohnaà softly chuckled.
"Your generosity overwhelms me, young one."
Utilizing her belt rope, Et-esh suspended the rabbit by its ears from her buckskin's neck.
On the way to the forest a couple miles distant, the warriors happened upon a small group of gray ducks grazing grass. Frightened by the Amazoni intrusion, they disbanded in flight. Arming her bow Ohnaà speared a hapless duck too slow in joining the flock. Quickly collecting it, she tied the duck to her belt.
"In the forest I will search for yellow Yosh mushrooms to add to our meal."
Et-esh licked her lips.
"I like roasted Yosh mushrooms."
"You also like them raw because they give you strange visions."
"Because of that pleasure, Dukwukka threw out my supply."
Ohnaà burst into laughter.
"I find nothing funny. Traveling far from his prying eyes to enjoy my mushrooms is humiliating."
With Herculean effort Ohnaà sobered from her laughter.
"Surely he knows you have eaten them as you stumble bleary-eyed into your lodge."
Et-esh's pale eyes glittered.
"I never tell him my comings and goings, which gives plenty of time for my raw Yosh mushrooms' effects to wear off."
Grinning, Ohnaà shook her head.
As the forest came into view, the warriors urged their mounts into a brisk canter, the noosed rabbit about Et-esh's buckskin's neck slapping in time to the equine's stride. Penetrating deeper through the forest, Ohnaà and Et-esh entered a clearing trimmed with prickly bushes and gnarled trees with mighty Afros of green leaves swaying gently in tepid breezes. Strewn about the clearing's tawny sedge lay fallen branches and smooth boulders. Dismounting, they stood beneath a tree.
Untying the duck from her belt, Ohnaà dropped it, then went scavenging for yellow Yosh mushrooms and firewood.
Et-esh cleared a spot for the fire, and proceeded to skin the rabbit and pluck the duck.
Between a couple of gnarled trees, Ohnaà discovered a rotted log, the front of which was barnacled with palm-sized, yellow Yosh mushroom tops. Carefully peeling off four leathery mushrooms, she foraged for a handful of sticks for fire feed and long sticks for the spit. Soon the warriors were feasting upon roasted rabbit, duck, and mushroom tops.
After the meal a twig's snap alerted Ohnaà to her feet. Sidling beside her friend, Et-esh loaded her bow.
Tall and lanky, bald head slick with sweat, and dressed in boar skin trousers, knee-high moccasins and white cotton long-sleeved shirt, the stranger crunched through the trees, leading his ashen pack mule. A bloated sack was slung over his shoulder. "Greetin's purdy ladies," he hailed as he confidently approached. "Ah been travelin' fo days without seein' hide no hayah of--"
Et-esh's arrow sailed through the air, landing before the startled man's feet.
"Hell 'n tarnation, woman! That ain't no way t'greet a man."
The scowling Et-esh swiftly loaded her bow.
"Ah ain't gonna hut--"
Et-esh's fresh arrow joined its brother.
"Talk about makin' yo meanin' clayah!"
The unarmed foreigner gradually eased his precious satchel off his shoulder to the grass. Protective of his mule, he gripped tighter its lead rein.
Et-esh shouldered her bow.
Interested in the sturdy mule, Ohnaà approached, Et-esh beside her, to stroke its ivory neck.
"Now yo leave Moppah alone, yo h'yah?"
Ohnaà caressed the animal's nose.
"Ah said, leave Moppah alone!" the hairless Outsider protested, shoving the Shesh-Amazoni aside.
Grasping the bold one by the throat, Ohnaà glared into his fearless emerald eyes. "This one is brave to lay hands upon me, is he not, young one?" she inquired in Amazoni.
"It is so."
Ohnaà roughly shoved the man from her.
"How are you called? How do you become lost upon Amazoni land?" Ohnaà demanded in Trader.
The man rubbed his throat.
"Folks call me Codeine 'n ah ain't lost. Who be y'all?"
"I am Ohnaà. She is war chief Et-esh."
Codeine's emerald eyes widened with delight. "Hell 'n tarnation!" he exclaimed. "Ah been hearin' tales of yo exploits from when ah was knee high. Pleasure t'make yo acquaintance, though ah would've pufuh'd yo not tryin' t'wring mah neck."
"Where do you come from?"
"Ah was bone 'n raised in what y'all call t'southern cont'nent."
"I do not know this land. It is across the Great Water?"
"Yo won't git me t'cross no wadah! Momma always said 'Son, keep yo skinny ass ohn dry land 'n yo won't afeared of gittin' drownded.' Momma gave good advice! Sides, cain't swim wuth mule spit anyhow. Hailin' from t'South with y'all never comin' 'round, y'all considuh us from 'nuthuh cont'nent though it really ain't.
"Ah wrassle snakes fo a livin'. On mah way t'a town called Tule."
"There are other ways to go to Trader camps that do not bring you onto Amazoni land," Ohnaà reminded.
"Cuttin' through took fifty mile off mah trip, 'n yo grass 'n purdy trees ain't no wuss fo it."
The bag at Codeine's feet heaved and rattled. Defensively drawing her knife, Ohnaà lobbed it, silencing the satchel.
"Hell 'n tarnation!" Codeine exploded. Kneeling, he tossed aside the Shesh-Amazoni's weapon and emptied the bag, spilling out the lifeless, foot-long, silver pebble snake. "Yo done kilt Dorothek!"
Coolly collecting her blade, Ohnaà sheathed it.
"It is not wise to carry deadly pebble snakes."
"Deadly mah ass! Dorothek had huh poison glands removed, renderin' huh as harmless as a teethin' puppy." Codeine rose. "Ah demand yo get me a new snake!"
Frowning, Ohnaà folded muscled arms across her chest.
"I owe you nothing."
"Ah say yo do 'n yo gonna get me 'nuthuh pebble snake because replacin' what yo kilt is t'right thang t'do! Oh don't yo have no sense of onuh in such thangs?"
Ohnaà's obsidian eyes blazed. "I have much honor, and too much patience for one such as you," she hissed.
"No need t'git yo skins in a bunch. We could set everthin' right by a game of arm wrasslin'."
"I accept your challenge. You win, I will capture a new pebble snake for you. I win, I claim your mule and you leave my land."
"Some bahgain, makin' me walk home."
"Then I will kill you and claim your mule."
"Well, since yo put it that way, ah see no problem with yo tums."
"Co-deen should know I am undefeated in games of strength."
"We'll see if yo winnin' streak holds up. An yo nasty wo chief can oaficiate. That is, if she don't ton me into a prickuh bush fuhst with huh airuz."
Et-esh curtly nodded acceptance of her role as referee.
Ohnaà pointed to a waist-high sandstone boulder near Et-esh's grazing buckskin. "There," she curtly grunted and led the way.
Kneeling at her end of the boulder, Ohnaà rested bent arm upon sun-baked surface.
Et-esh positioned herself at rock side.
Succumbing to temptation, Codeine prodded the warrior's massive bicep with a bony finger.
"Hod as rock!"
"Take your place," Et-esh commanded.
Codeine glared at her.
"Wo chief, ah'm gittin' awful tired o' yo nasty tempoment. Ah don't take t'bein' rushed."
Ohnaà heaved an annoyed sigh.
Lowering to his knees, Codeine rested an upraised arm upon the boulder.
Ohnaà snatched his hand.
"Begin," Et-esh dictated.
The arm wrestling battle commenced.
"Ain't this a sight. Yo big 'ol muscle is wigglin' purdier than a hip shakin' woman lurin' huh beau."
Ignoring the comment, teeth bared, Ohnaà strained to force Codeine's arm down before being compelled upright.
"Yo was flappin' yo gums ohvuh yo nevuh losin' a game o' strength, eh? Looks like yo havin' a hell of a time bringin' me down."
Ohnaà increased her efforts, only to have victory stolen time and again.
"Time's a wastin'. Yo had yo little fun. It's snake catchin' time."
Codeine forced Ohnaà's arm down and released her.
The warrior stared wide-eyed at the only person to ever defeat her in a game of might. "Ah yah! You have much strength!" she exclaimed.
"Momma always did say ah was purdy strong fo such a skinny thang. Yo ain't plannin' on killin' me anyway, considerin' yo wo chief saw this. Don't want yo thankin' ah dishonored yo in front of huh."
"It would be foolish to kill one who honorably defeats me. Co-deen has earned my respect and friendship."
He turned to Et-esh.
"Your victory changes nothing. I still do not like you."
"Puhaps one day yo visit me at home. Ah got me a big place with lotsa hosses. Be pleased t'give yo one."
"I do not want one horse. After I steal all your horses will I like you."
"That ain't kindly."
"It is my way."
"Well, if'n that's t'only way t'brighten yo nasty tempoment, yo can stale 'em all, wo chief."
Et-esh answered with a curt nod.
"I know a good place to hunt pebble snakes, Co-deen," Ohnaà hinted.
"I leave you both. I have better things to do than bother with snakes."
Collecting her horse, Et-esh rode away.
"Hell 'n tarnation! Even Moppah mah mule ain't as grouchy as huh."
"Et-esh is very friendly. This day did not end well for her."
"If'n that's a joke, ah ain't laughin'."
Grabbing his empty sack, Codeine followed the Shesh-Amazoni to their grazing mounts.
Exiting the forest, the companions rode the grassland.
"Whar we goin' t'git mah new snake?"
"Pebble snakes like caves. I know many."
"How yo proposin' t'lure it?"
Grinning, Ohnaà winked.
"Yo bedduh not be plannin' on usin' me as bait."
Laughing, the warrior nudged Appaloosa into a trot.
"Yo is terrible evil!" Codeine snarled, savagely kicking his lazy mule.
Warrior and Southern gent continued, ending their journey at a mountain of craggy granite, its base punctured with three gargantuan cave apertures.
"Here we will find snakes."
"Which cave yo thankin' of tryin' fuhst?"
"All will merge as one."
The riders dismounted. Codeine peeked inside one of the caves.
"Looks mighty dahk."
"Pebble snakes have good eyes. To them darkness is as day."
"Ah don't like dahk."
"I will understand if Co-deen is afraid."
"Hell 'n tarnation, woman! Ah didn't say ah was afeared. Ah'm goin' with yo."
"As you wish."
"Ah do. Didn't come all this way fo nothin'."
Ohnaà led the way into the first dim cave mouth; its path sliced through walls chunky with jagged granite coated with red moss. The breeze wafting through chilled the skin. Dripping water from the other intercepting caves echoed. Treading carefully around boulders and stalagmites, the pair penetrated deeper the two hundred foot high chamber. A mob of small bats flapped by.
"Hell 'n tarnation!"
Proceeding another fifty feet, the pair encountered their prey coiled atop a wall shelf. The plump, three-foot silver pebble snake defensively vibrated its scales, producing its trademark pebbly rattle. Its cold turquoise eyes glared malevolently upon the trespassers. Its rapidly flicking, three-pronged, red tongue swelled with the stench of human spore collected from the air.
"It is a big snake, Co-deen."
"Sho 'nuff is. Problem is he don't look in the mood t'come down, and ah ain't no billy goat t'go climbin' aftuh yo for him."
"Bee lee goat?"
"Nevuh yo mind what that is. Just git me mah snake."
Ohnaà cautiously approached the snake's roost, provoking it to coil tighter and rattle louder. Scanning the ground, she spied a long forked stick. Positioned beneath the enraged serpent, she eased the stick under its thick coils. Gently she lowered the agitated viper. "Pouch," she commanded.
Uncooperatively, the pebble snake charged, startling Ohnaà into dropping it and Codeine's bag. Slithering atop the satchel the hissing viper reared its upper body. Like a boxer throwing punches it lunged repeatedly, snapping air with its long fangs.
"Don't thank he wants t'leave right yet."
"Hold its attention."
"Ah knew yo wasn't kiddin' 'bout usin' me as bait."
"Be silent or capture him yourself," Ohnaà snarled.
Ohnaà snuck behind the irritated snake distracted by Codeine. With lightening speed she snatched its neck with one hand, tightening her grip slightly as the reptile thrashed.
Codeine was ready with his open bag. With a growl Ohnaà deposited the rattling snake. Quickly Codeine knotted the tote's top.
Ohnaà wiped her brow. "I will never do this again," she grumbled.
"Ah really appreciate yo keepin' yo promise."
"I am a warrior of my word."
"Thank yo. From the looks of thangs, yo looked like yo fought pebble snakes b'fo."
"My mate, Ojah, was almost eaten by one."
"Yo kiddin!" Codeine exclaimed sitting down.
"I do not joke over such things."
"How big was it?"
"From here to outside. Cutting a hole I entered the great snake's body. Stabbing its heart, I kill it."
"Ah wish ah coulda seen that!"
A smile tickled Ohnaà's mouth.
"Ojah showed my people the trophy of snake skin I took. He made a special pouch to hold it."
"Bet they was mighty proud o' yo."
"Ah yah!" Ohnaà eyed Codeine's bloated bag. "Do not forget to take this one's poison."
"Ah'll have mah hains full."
"You have hunger?"
"Ah'm powerful hungry!"
"I will hunt less dangerous prey. It will be a good last meal before I return to Amazoni."
Ohnaà led the way out of the cave.
As they walked to their mounts side-by-side upon the grassland, Ohnaà turned to Codeine.
"It is good to see another Trader who is a man of honor and courage."
"Ah appreciate t'comploment."
"It pleases me also that you will not mind if Et-esh steals your horses to gain her friendship. You do not understand her way but you respect it."
"Momma taught me good."
"She still lives?"
"She died of t'fever long time ago."
"Ah yah! We are much alike, Co-deen. Long ago my mother die of Trader sickness."
"Ah'm real sorry 'bout that. What was she like?"
"A mighty warrior and wise leader." Ohnaà grinned. "Tell me of this animal you call bee lee goat."
Codeine burst into hearty laughter.
Later that day, the mounted Ohnaà detected deer tracks. Without a word she cantered ahead.
Furiously kicking his mule, Codeine yelled at her for refusing to pick up the pace above the stiff-legged trot that was jolting him around like a sack of potatoes and annoying the bagged pebble snake to rattling.
"Hell 'n tarnation, Moppah, yo sorry bag 'o bones. We got t'keep up if'n we gonna git any suppuh. Yo git those lazy legs movin' o' ah swayuh when ah git yo home, ah'm gonna berl yo in a pot 'n eat'cha!"
Moppah brayed in protest at Codeine's incessant kicking of her ribs.
"Don't gimme no lip, girl."
Moppah broke into a canter but by then Ohnaà had disappeared over the grasslands' hill.
In Ohnaà's path grazed a small deer herd. They didn't sense her until too late. Her arrow slammed into a plump doe, scaring the others into a panicked run.
By the time Codeine arrived, Ohnaà's roasting of the doe was nearly complete.
"What take you so long, Co-deen?"
The enraged Southerner dismounted.
"Moppah. Ah told huh when we git home ah'm gonna cook huh sorry fanny fo bein' too slow."
"Mule is not good to eat. Too tough."
"Guess ah'll just give Moppah a good spankin' then."
"We have much meat."
Rubbing his hands in anticipation, Codeine sat. Reaching into a trouser pocket he withdrew a slightly smudged white cloth and tucked one corner of it into his shirt front, daintily spreading it.
Pointing, Ohnaà laughed at the ridiculous sight.
"Yo got somethin' against mah napekin?"
Ohnaà laughed louder.
"Yo go on 'n laugh."
Slicing off a sizzling chunk of venison with her dagger, the snickering warrior handed it to Codeine. She selected a hot chunk of meat and gobbled it with savage pleasure, unmindful of grease dribbling down her chin.
"Hell 'n tarnation, woman! Yo got t'nastiest mannuhs!"
Ohnaà playfully growled as she ripped off a corner of a new piece of meat.
Codeine shook his head.
After the meal, Ohnaà watched with amusement as Codeine fastidiously dabbed his mouth with a corner of his napkin, removed it from his shirt front and stuffed it into his pants pocket. Wiping her mouth free of grease upon a massive forearm, she dried her hands on the grass and scattered the remains of the dead fire and bones.
"I ride to my people now."
Appaloosa responding to her whistle, Ohnaà gracefully vaulted upon his flecked back. Raising a hand in formal salute she then cantered away.
"Alright yo floppy-eared mule. We got us a new snake t'unpoison 'n wrassle in Tule."