Wi Ile Anpo leaned against a large boulder, a leather shirt borrowed from another koskalaka in one hand. Beside her were a handful of hoksila and other warriors including her sic'e, Nupa Olowan. Across the box canyon were more warriors, waiting as she with implements of clothing in their hands.
"How is my cuwe?" the woman asked to pass the time.
Nupa smiled. "She is well, tanksi. The sickness has gone away now." Laughing, he added, "Teca will soon have a cousin to play with!"
Chuckling, Anpo shook her head ruefully. "My cinksi will have to wait some time. Your child needs a few moons to prepare."
"What has he done now?" a man nearby asked, a corner of his lips curled with humor.
"When I returned from fishing yesterday, I found him covered with corn meal and Ketlin swearing in her language!" She laughed. "He wished to see what was in the basket and poured it over himself!"
Around them, the others joined in their laughter. Teca's escapades were rapidly becoming legendary among them all.
"I know that you and I were always getting in trouble, tanksi," Nupa exclaimed, "but did you start so young?"
"I tease my winuhca that I was a good child and that our son must take after her." Anpo chuckled, "And she agrees with me! Ketlin tells me stories of her childhood and always wonders how her ina survived the ordeal!"
One of the warriors, a member of the pair's pack when they were children, piped up, "I wonder how your ina survived the ordeal!" He peered down at a younger sibling with a grin.
"As do I!" another called from further down the line, his voice ringing over the laughter.
Anpo grinned. "As do I," she agreed mischievously.
"Listen!" Nupa interrupted, holding his hand up.
The party quieted, eyes becoming alert as they scanned around the canyon. Across the entrance, their comrades were obviously hearing the same as they. A low rumble echoed off the canyon walls, growing louder as the cause moved closer.
Heads turned this way and that as they scanned the distance. First one, then another found a cloud of dust that was nearing them. Fingers pointed, words called to warn the remainder of the warriors.
"There!" Anpo called, pointing at the brown haze in the blue sky. "They are almost here!" She picked up a length of rope that was coiled at her feet, throwing it across her shoulder.
Around the wikoskalaka the other warriors were doing the same. Most of the boys were holding their shirts firmly in their hands, grim looks on their young faces as they prepared to help the warriors with their task.
Their preparations were halted with the appearance of nearly a hundred horses, rounding the bend and heading right for them. The wild herd raced past the people, eyes wide in terror. Behind them, making an awful racket of howling and hooting and banging on drums, rode the rest of the camp's wicasa.
Once the last of the animals and riders were in the box canyon, the two groups of warriors and hoksila raced together. They stretched into a line across the opening, waving their shirts and keeping the animals penned inside. While the boys continued their distractions, the warriors dropped the clothing and pelted into the canyon, pulling free their ropes. Many of the mounted warriors had jumped from their own steeds, tying them near the hoksila. They, too, had ropes out and began taking possession of the wild horses.
It was a loud and dusty chaos in the small canyon. Anpo almost felt alone within it, despite the obvious calls of her friends around her. A fine looking spotted mare cantered nervously past, her dark eyes rolling in anxiety, and the wikoskalaka threw her rope over its neck.
The animal reared and whinnied in fear, trying to pull away but unable. The dark woman increased the pressure on the rope, pulling the large head down and not allowing the mare an opportunity to pull up again. Once Anpo was sure of her capture she pulled the pony to a small boulder, wrapping the rope around the base with one quick turn and tying it off. A quick slice with a knife and she had enough rope for another attempt.
The second horse she took was a stallion, a deep reddish brown in color. He was a bit tougher to hold, however, and threw her to the ground once in his desire to be free. The warrior held on for dear life and managed to bring the animal under control. With a bit of tugging, she pulled him to the spotted mare to tie him off.
Again the knife came out and cut the rope, but there wasn't enough remaining for her to seek another. Looking out over the canyon, she could see that there were few animals left anyway. I will give the mare to my mahasanniki, she thought, turning back to her horses.
As the dust began to settle, Anpo could see a shadowy form on the other side of the spotted mare. Frowning, she moved closer, mindful of the stallion's hooves and trying to get a clearer view. When she saw what was there, a smile crossed her face. With slow, measured movements, the warrior took the remaining rope and made it into a loop.
"And I will give you to my cinksi," she told the grey colt as she eased closer.
The smaller animal was skittish, his tail swishing in agitation. He sidestepped the wikoskalaka twice, not wanting her near but not wanting to be away from his mother. Anpo was persistent, though, and finally was able to collar him, holding a bit of the leftover rope as a leash.
Looking over the colt, she grinned. "Teca will be very happy to see you," she told it.
The colt eyed her nervously before stepping forward with caution to nudge his mother's teat. Still skittish, the mare allowed his feeding, one rear leg slightly lifted and ready to strike out to protect her young.
Smug, Anpo looked over her new ponies. "Ohan. One for Teca, one for Ketlin and one for me."
The camp meandered along its path, stretching for nearly half a mile. Behind them lay the past two winters, one of famine and one of feast. And before them was summer camp, stretched out in a distant valley between two river forks.
Kathleen led a pony, her lodge suspended between two large logs and dragging along after. Beside her was another pony, this one with a pregnant woman upon it.
"Oh, I am so happy the sickness is gone, stepan," Hca Wanahca said with a relieved sigh. She smiled down at her friend. "I do not know how you survived it!"
Grinning, the blonde woman scratched a tan shoulder. "I do not think my sickness was as hard as yours, Hca. And I was frightened much of the time - I believe that I did not pay as much attention to it as you."
The dark woman shrugged a little and shook her head dismissively. "Still, Ketlin. Your sickness was hard enough to call the medicine man."
Kathleen nodded, her mind casting back to her own pregnancy. She sent a silent prayer for the old man, He Osni, who had died that following terrible winter. "As was yours, stepan."
Hca patted her large belly with a chuckle. "As was mine," she agreed. There was a sudden, breathless pause and her smile turned adoring. "Stepan!" she said, waving the blonde closer. "Feel! The baby is kicking!"
Having gone through this many times in the last few months, Kathleen nonetheless put up her hand and let it be guided to the area in question. Feeling the spasms beneath her palm, she rubbed it gently and said, "It is moving very much. I think you will have a strong boy."
"Oh, I hope so!" Hca answered, her eyes showing her excitement. "Nupa would be so happy to have a cinksi!" She thought for a moment. "He would be happy with a cunksi, too," she allowed.
Laughing, the lighter woman said, "But a cinksi would be better."
Hca blushed a little, though her smile was still in place as she nodded. "Ohan, it would."
"Well, if you give birth to a girl, you can always make more," Kathleen offered.
"Ohan. And we will!"
The pair giggled as they continued on their way. The sound of hoofbeats garnered their attention and the women looked around to see their warriors returning from the rear of the moving camp.
"Han, winuhcala!" Anpo called as she neared, coming to a halt beside her woman. Beside her, Nupa did the same.
"Hau, ina!" a small voice piped up.
"Han, my two warriors," Kathleen responded, smiling. She pulled her pony to a stop as Hca and Nupa continued on their way. Holding up her arms, she caught their son, Tatanka Teca, as he dived off the back of his inanup's horse. "Did you have a good ride, cinksi?"
"Hau, ina!" the toddler nodded, a huge grin on his dark face. He hugged his mother's neck with one arm, waving the other at the warrior who was dismounting. "inanup pony big!"
"Very big," Anpo agreed. She heard their son repeat her words as she bent down for a welcoming kiss. "And we went very far," she informed Kathleen with mock seriousness.
"Very far," Teca agreed.
Looking from her winuhca to Teca, the blonde tsked gently. "You must be hungry, cinksi." The solemn nod she received in answer caused her to quirk her mouth. "Come then. We will find you something to eat."
As Kathleen turned to approach the household strapped on her pony's back, the boy tugged at her dress. "Want you."
"Hiya, Teca. Later tonight when we make camp. You know I cannot travel with you like that anymore."
Before the toddler could make an issue of it, Anpo scooped him up and tossed him into the air. The child screeched in pleasure. "You are very big, cinksi!" she proclaimed as she caught him in her arms.
He giggled up at the dark woman and tugged on one of her braids. "I very big!"
"Ohan!" the blonde agreed. "You will be a tall and strong warrior, Teca."
"Big warrior!" Anpo repeated, swinging the child around as he laughed.
Thankful for the distraction, Kathleen approached her packed lodge and rummaged about in one of the baskets for something to eat. Pulling out some wansi and leftover frybread from breakfast, she called her family closer.
The warrior settled Teca onto the household, in a spot designed specifically for him to sit in while they moved. The toddler got comfortable and took the pemmican and bread handed to him. Kathleen found a waterskin and set it close. As they ate, the camp continued to move, passing around them.
"Nupa and I are going to scout to the west," Anpo stated as she chewed her food. "If there is any game, we will hunt and bring it for tonight's feast."
Kathleen nodded. "May the spirits lead you true."
"Want to go!" the toddler demanded, spilling half the wansi from his mouth as he spoke.
The blonde cocked an eye at her woman. It's all yours....
"Hiya, Teca. You will stay with your ina." The warrior braced herself for the child's attack.
"Want to go!" The tiny face began to screw up in anger and frustration, his food forgotten.
The warrior rolled her dark eyes and sighed. "Hiya! You will stay with your ina." He is more than stubborn. Refusing to show any weariness at fighting with the toddler, Anpo leaned forward. "Do you wish to ride again with me, cinksi?"
Not understanding the relevance, Teca blinked at her, his emotional tempest pausing. "Hau, inanup."
"You stay here with your ina. When I return, I will take you riding again today."
The child considered this option with some seriousness. Riding with his second mother was always fun. And two times!? "I sleep?" he finally asked, eyes flickering back and forth between his parents.
Kathleen found two pairs of eyes regarding her. With a sigh she shook her head. Such negotiations for only two and a half! "Hiya, Teca. You do not have to sleep. Just ride here for awhile while inanup is away."
"And I will take you on another ride, cinksi," the warrior exclaimed with a smile.
Apparently deciding that it was a good trade off, Teca nodded. "Hau, inanup." And then he scooped up his pemmican and began to eat again as if nothing had occurred.
Kathleen mentally wiped her brow at another temper tantrum averted. Was I ever that mule-headed? She could see the reflection of her relief in her warrior's eyes and they grinned at one another. She's beautiful.
Most of the camp had passed by the time they finished their meal. Anpo kissed both of them farewell and mounted her pony. Before she left, she firmly told Teca, "I will return and take you for a ride, cinksi!" And then she sped off in search of Nupa.
The toddler frowned and fussed a bit, still wanting to go with Anpo. But, he was a smart, if obstinate, child and had made his decision. He sat back with an air of impatience as his mother began walking with the horse again. Soon his eyes drifted closed.
Their arrival at summer camp aroused the same interest as every year. A few dozen warriors and elders took the time to ride out and formally great the incoming people. And, as usual, there were a few koskalaka who desired a closer look at the white woman.
Anpo had learned her lesson from that first year, however. She kept herself close to her family, glaring down any young man who got too close. Fortunately, word had spread and no one was willing to challenge.
The warrior remained in the vicinity of her family as the ti ikceyas were set up, helping to distract the boy as well as keep an eye on her winuhca. Once she was sure that Kathleen and Teca were safely ensconced at her hearth, she grinned and kissed them both before heading off to the council fire at the center of camp.
Anpo's father, Wanbli Zi, was already at the fire, seated to one side. As she settled down just behind him and beside her tiblo, she thought, Ate is getting old. A frown crossed her face as she noticed the new wrinkles and whitening hair. An indistinct uneasiness swept over her. I have never thought of him as old before.
Her musings were broken by words spoken from across the fire.
"Hiya. The wicasa was white."
The wikoskalaka's eyes found the speaker with sharp intensity, a man a bit older than herself and from another encampment.
"What did he look like?" a second man asked, puffing on his pipe in concentration.
The first pursed his lips in thought. "His hair was like ours but curly like the cana," and he indicated the area between his legs. "It covered his face. He smiled too much and stank."
A few of the men chuckled at the sentiment. Wicasa Waziya Mani spoke up from his place nearer the woman warrior. "And you say this white man is north?" At the answering nod, the chief continued, "What is he doing there? Has he no hearth? No family?"
The first man shrugged. "He does not. He said his people were to the east and he was a trader." A grin crossed his face as he pulled out a knife, holding it up for all to see. "I traded him two wolf skins for this."
The metal blade caught the afternoon sunlight and reflected it back at them all.
Several days passed as preparations began in earnest for this season's Sun Dance. As each new band arrived, the camp grew to bursting. The people gossiped and worked together, catching up on the news of a winter and preparing for another long absence from one another.
The most well worked information, of course, was that of the white trader to the north. Others of the camp that had met him had stories to regale their eager audience with - tales of sticks that made loud noises, of a liquid that burnt like fire when drunk, of cloth blankets that were thicker than those of their neighbors to the south. The winyan were abuzz with the strange metal pots and beads of all sizes and colors.
Kathleen received a lot of attention from the other winyan as they asked her about the things they'd heard about. She did her best to inform them of the various items in the white world that were created to make a woman's life easier. And, as she spoke of metal laundry pails, fry pans, scissors and boots, a certain feeling of nostalgia stole over her.
"Hau, Nupa! Hau, Anpo!" a voice called.
The two warriors looked from their game of throwing spears to see Wicasa Waziya Mani approaching them with a wide smile on his handsome face. Tagging along behind were four of his men.
"Hau, wicahcala," Anpo responded, turning to the chief. She held out her hand and grasped the offered forearm.
Nupa took the opportunity to throw the spear, hitting the targeted tree with a solid thunk. He, too, turned to the others and grasped forearms with Mani. "Hau, wicahcala!" Grinning at his friend, he added, "I beat you, tanksi!"
With a careful eye, the wikoskalaka studied their target. "You did, tiblo. The spear is yours."
Almost chortling in his glee at besting her, the warrior trotted forward to yank the spear from the tree.
Upon Nupa's return, the chief said, "I would ask you and your families to join me at my fire tonight."
A dark brow rose. Anpo looked to her friend who was equally curious. "I . . . would be honored, wicahcala," she finally said.
Nupa echoed her agreement.
The chief's smile broadened and he clapped both of them on the shoulder. "Good! I look forward to seeing that fine young cinksi of yours, Anpo!"
A grin creased the dark woman's face. "My winucha says Teca grows like a weed."
Startled by the unusual comparison, Mani thought for a second before bursting into laughter. "I am sure he does, wikoskalaka!" he exclaimed. In parting, he said, "Until tonight."
The friends nodded. "Until tonight," Nupa agreed.
Once the wicasa were gone, Nupa turned to the woman. "That was strange."
"Ohan." The warrior shrugged and turned away from the retreating forms. "You and I should tell our winyan to prepare."
"Hau." As the two warriors walked away from their contest, Nupa hefted the spear, a thoughtful look on his face. "Do you remember our first meeting, tanksi?"
Memories of a young hoksila who had taken the spear her father had given her filled Anpo's mind. With a rueful smile, she nodded. "I do, tiblo."
"It looks like I finally got that spear!"
The dark woman laughed and slapped Nupa on the back. "Ohan, tiblo! You did! And I will not fight you to get it back this time!"
Mani's fire turned out to be the council fire of his camp. A fairly large gathering of his people were present and the atmosphere was jovial in nature. A handful of the men were elders, most others being of an age with the chief or younger.
As was customary, the wicasa sat around the fire as they smoked and talked, the women serving them. Hoksila sat as close as they could to hear the words of the warriors they wished to become. Talk revolved around many subjects - hunting, travel, weapons and ponies.
Eventually all had been fed. It was later in the evening as the setting sun cast brilliant oranges and reds across the surrounding ti ikceyas. Kathleen settled down behind her warrior, leaning against the strong back with one shoulder as she nursed Teca. The toddler was far past the need for breast milk, but he still desired it upon occasion.
"Anpo, Nupa," Mani spoke up, drawing the crowd's attention. "You both have very handsome families."
"Thank you, wicahcala," Nupa smiled. He gently rubbed his woman's belly. "And it will be growing soon."
Hca Wanahca blushed a little but smiled at the general murmur of amusement.
Grinning and nodding in agreement, Mani took a puff off his pipe. "The two of you have parents in Wagna's camp?"
"Ohan," Anpo answered.
Again, the chief nodded, though this time his face had turned thoughtful. A comfortable silence reigned about the fire as the rest of Mani's people kept their counsel and waited for him to speak again. "I am going north when the Sun Dance is complete," the chief announced. "I am going to see this white trader they speak of. I would like the two of you and your families to join me."
Anpo blinked at the young chief. "You would have me join you?" she asked, her tone not quite one of surprise.
"Hau, Anpo. And Nupa, too."
The woman looked to her friend, seeing a sparkle of excitement in his dark eyes. Behind her, she could feel the comforting weight of Kathleen leaning against her, hear the sounds of Teca as he suckled his way to slumber.
Sensing her hesitation, Mani leaned forward and tapped the ashes of his pipe out. "Anpo, you are a fine warrior and hunter. I witnessed you slaying tatanka ska! The spirits have honored you with a winucha and a cinksi." He paused and peered into her eyes. "I would have you come with me."
Dark eyes narrowed. He states the obvious and he tries to sway me with his pleasing tongue. "You speak sweet words, wicahcala. But even honey cannot sweeten rotten meat. What do you mean to say?"
A tension seemed to fill the air, directed at the visitors. The rest of her family bristled in defense, even Teca fussing a bit at the subtle clues from his ina. Anpo refused to look away from the chief, keeping her eyes locked on his. Her father's words ehoed in her head, Be strong.
Mani stared back, dark eyes as flinty as the steel knife that had been shown him days earlier. And then a slow grin washed across his face. The heavy atmosphere lessened and the rest of the people responded to his smile. And, as he began to chuckle, so did they.
"Nothing gets past you, Anpo!" he exclaimed. "You have a pleasant nature and appear as soft as the wikoskalaka you are!" His voice lowered and his tone became serious. "But deep inside beats the heart of a warrior, and that is why I would have you join me!"
Despite her relief at the young chief's response, Anpo continued to stare at him without an answering smile. Behind her, Kathleen could feel the muscle along the broad back, tight and ready.
"Your words are still honey, wicahcala. Speak your heart."
Mani's smile turned rueful and he cast a sly eye at his people gathered around. "You know my heart, Anpo." He jutted a chin at the blonde woman sitting behind the warrior. "I would have your winuhca be with us as we speak to the white trader. It is said that Topeya's people had great difficulty making themselves understood."
Nodding slowly in acceptance of his statement, Anpo considered her next words carefully. "Tonight we are feasting at your fire, wicahcala, as invited guests. You have honored me with your invitation." A pause as she glanced behind her to see dark blue eyes looking back. They spoke of love and acceptance and trust. "I will think on your words, Mani. I will not answer you this night."
"That is good, wikoskalaka," the chief agreed. He leaned back, a respectful look on his face. "You do not act or speak without thought. You will be wise counsel in the future."
The subject was then dropped and the feast continued until there was no food left. As the next morning was the beginning of the four days of Sun Dance rituals, the reveling ceased early. Eventually, the visitors said their good nights and drifted off to their own camp.
"What do you think your decision will be, tanksi?" Nupa asked as the warriors trailed behind their women.
"I do not know, tiblo," the woman shrugged. "I am curious. But it is Ketlin that Mani wants there. If she does not wish it, we will not go."
Her friend nodded, dark eyes searching the distant horizon of thought. "I believe that I will go. I wish a knife of that strange stone." Pulling his own obsidian blade and peering at it, he said, "Topeya said it does not chip or break as fast. And only two wolf skins."
"That is very good for something so valuable," Anpo murmured.
"Hau. It is."
Arriving at their respective lodges, the familles separated and settled in for the night. Soon, Teca was sleeping in his robes within easy reach of his parents. Anpo and Kathleen cuddled together, enjoying their privacy before the toddler woke in the night and joined them in their own robes.
"Do you wish to see the white trader, winuhcala?" Anpo asked, lying comfortably on her back with her woman draped across her.
Kathleen's general feeling of nostalgia warred with her common sense. "Ohan, Anpo. But do not think I can speak his words just because he is white." The blonde snuggled closer, a contented sigh escaping her as warm hands moved along her spine. "It is like the Lakota and the Hahatunwan - two different people though your skin is brown."
The warrior nodded. "You speak truly." One hand reached up to finger yellow hair.
"And do not think that this white trader is as honorable as your people, Anpo," the blonde warned with gentle insistence.
"What?" Anpo frowned down at her woman, brows furrowed. "I do not understand."
Kathleen squeezed the dark woman in a hug. "I know you do not understand. That is why you need to know." She inhaled deeply. "The white men can be very mean, very hurtful. To their own kind as well as others."
"I do not know, winuhcala," Kathleen answered, a sorrowful tone to her voice. "It has always been so. Remember the stories I have told you."
Anpo considered this. There had been many, many evenings that her woman had entertained her with stories of the white people. Battles fought over a simple piece of land that belonged to no one but the spirits. Whole wars that continued on for years because one man was jealous of another. Despite these tales, the warrior had always considered them distant and not necessarily very important. The very real and near white trader brought all of this back to the forefront of her mind.
Her head tucked underneath the warrior's chin, Kathleen traced the pattern of scarring on the dark chest with light fingers. "Not all white wicasa are bad, Anpo. But not all are good."
Running a dark hand along the blonde's forearm, the native said, "Do you think there will be trouble?"
"I do not know, winuhcala. I fear that there could be. The trader is there for a reason - to make himself wealthy. And wealth drives a white man more than any other thought." And you people are all babes in the wood and ripe for the takin', Kathleen thought with furrowed brows, unable to find the right words to explain herself.
"All men wish to make themselves wealthy," Anpo responded, though more to throw in an arguing point to the conversation.
The blonde drew herself up onto her elbow, brushing her hair behind one ear as she peered down at her warrior in earnest. The hand returned to lay palm down on Anpo's chest. "Do not make light of this, winuhcala," she said in a firm tone. "The white wicasa would own everything in the world if he could."
Blinking in consternation, Anpo tilted her head to one side and met the dark blue gaze. "How could a man own the world? The world belongs to the spirits." The alien concept confused her.
A small, sad smile crossed Kathleen's face. Oh, I wish that were true, luv. I hope that your future with my people will be a good one. "Ohan, Anpo. The world belongs to the spirits. But the white wicasa does not know of your spirits."
The warrior considered this. "Perhaps Mani is right. We should go with him this season to the white trader." She covered the hand on her chest with her own. "You know so much about your people that he does not. Even if you cannot speak the trader's words, you will be helpful to Mani with his understanding."
"Then we will go with Mani this season," Kathleen agreed with a slight nod. The smile that greeted her caused her breath to catch. God, she is more than beautiful!
Anpo pulled her woman down for a lingering kiss, their lips and tongues meeting and sliding together. The hand at her chest moved up to tangle in her dark hair, even as her own met with blonde. She moaned slightly at the feel of Kathleen's body as it leaned back against hers. She feels so good, tastes so good....
The heated kissing went on for some while with lips occasional distracted by ears and necks and faces. Hands roamed along bare skin. It eventually cooled down to gentle caresses until they both relaxed in each others' arms to catch their breath.
As she lay drowsing, Kathleen heard a low rumble from the chest her head was pillowed on.
"I love you, mahasanni ki."
A sleepy smile graced her features. "And I love you, mahasanni ki."
Anpo squeezed her dark eyes shut at the endearment, feeling it drive into her heart. It felt so every time her woman said this, sounding so much like the vision she'd had many years ago. If I find my own path as Inyan told me, will that be what hurts Ketlin? Despite the foreboding feelings, she sighed deeply and let herself drift to sleep.
The two warriors rode together the following day. One had dark hair that was graying with age while the other was young and vibrant. Regardless of their age difference, they sat their ponies almost identically, lending long familiarity to their presence together.
Coming to a small creek, the elder wicasa pulled up. "You and I will water the ponies here," he stated as he slid from his wooden saddle.
With a bit more spunk, Anpo hopped off her own steed with a nod of agreement. She untied a leather sack from her pony before letting him go to graze nearby.
Wanbli Zi gingerly sat down in the shade of a medium sized boulder, drinking deeply from his waterskin. He handed it up to his cunksi with a smile as she settled beside him.
Trading items, Anpo handed the sack over. "Ketlin made us something to eat before I left."
"She is a good cook," Wanbli commented with a grin, opening the leather bag and pulling out a small, wrapped bundle. As he peeled the leaves aside, he found a roasted game hen within. "A very good cook!"
Anpo chuckled and drank from the skin. She closed it and set it between them, taking the bag from her father and retrieving her own bird.
The pair ate in silence, watching the ponies and tossing the tiny bones into the nearby creek. Once their meal was finished, the pipes came out and they smoked in contentment.
"Ate..." the wikoskalaka began.
"Go, cunksi. Your ina and I will be fine."
Anpo looked at him in startlement. "You know what I was going to ask!? You have learned to read my thoughts!?"
Chuckling, Wanbli shook his head. "Hiya, Anpo. I only know that Nupa is already going with Mani. Where Nupa goes, you go. And where you go, Nupa goes. It has always been so." He puffed in reflection. "And your cuwe has been talking of nothing else."
Relieved and irritated at the same time, the woman stopped just short of grumbling. A hand resting on her shoulder brought her back from her uncharitable thoughts.
"Hca is winyan. It is in her nature to chatter like the birds. Do not make your heart stone towards her for following her nature."
Immediately contrite, Anpo dropped her gaze. "Ohan, ate. Your words are true."
Nodding, the elder continued to smoke, idly watching his world of the plains. When the tobacco was gone, he dug a hole in the ground with his heel and tapped the ashes there, covering them with dirt. "You are worried about me, cunksi. Why?"
Anpo dragged the words from within, not wanting to utter them and thereby make them real. "You are getting old, ate. Your hair is changing colors and your bones ache in the winter. I worry about you and ina without any family to take care of you this season."
There was a solemn nod in response as Wanbli mulled her words over. "It is the way I felt when my ate was my age and I was yours, cunksi. I will tell you what he told me."
The wikoskalaka leaned forward just a bit. She'd never met her grandfather who had died before her birth. It was rare that her father spoke of him.
"It is the cycle of the world, to be born, grow old and die, Anpo. Nothing will change it. Whether you stay with Wagna's camp this season or go with Mani and Nupa, we will still grow older. And maybe we will die in your absence, I do not know." Dark eyes, still strong despite his age, peered into those like his own. "But you will not follow the path you were meant to be on by letting your fears rule you."
Anpo searched her father's face, finding nothing but love and pride. "Do you know my path, ate?"
The man gave a slow grin and he nodded. "Hau, Anpo. You are to be a warrior and a hunter, like your father before you. This was seen by Inyan at the moment of your birth. He heard the scream of the igmu in your cries." Wanbli broke the eye contact, looking out over the water. "Tell me, cunksi. Have you ever seen a family of mountain lions together?"
"Ohan, ate. When the female has her cubs."
"And when the cubs are grown?"
Thinking carefully, the warrior considered the question. Her eyes widened. "Hiya, ate.... The igmu are always alone."
"Your path is not with mine, cunksi," Wanbli said seriously. He leaned forward to peer at his youngest child. "At least not now. Go with Mani and be easy in your heart - your ina and I will be strong until you return."
His larger hand patted her leg in reassurance as she slowly nodded. "I will go with Mani this season, ate. But next season, I will be at summer camp and rejoin you."
"You will do what you must, warrior. And you will be brave and strong as I have taught you."
Wicasa Ki Ska (wee-chah-shah kee skah)
The White Man
Wi Ile Anpo pulled her pony up as she crested the small hill. Turning, she looked out over the summer camp. Around her, Mani's camp flowed past, moving north. As these people who were strangers - yet not - passed by, the dark woman surveyed the encampment. With ease she spotted her mother's ti ikceya. And the empty void where her own woman's lodge had so recently been.
It felt strange to be leaving her home, leaving her family. I am not yet away and already I feel lost, Anpo mused with serious wonder. How will I feel when I cannot look up and see ate? When I cannot hear ina's voice as she speaks to Ketlin and Teca?
A hand on her bare calf caught her attention. Dark blue eyes met her gaze. A gentle, understanding smile graced the lips of the woman who stood beside her mount. Mahasanni ki, whispered a voice in her head and Anpo felt a rush of... something fill her. Love, fear, desire, tenderness all frothing together into a heady mix.
"We can stay," Kathleen suggested, knowing it wouldn't happen but feeling it should be voiced.
The offer seemed to give Anpo the freedom to turn it down. "Hiya, winuhcala. We will go with Mani and meet this white trader." Dark eyes looked at summer camp a final time. "My parents will be well in our absence."
The blonde nodded and rubbed the brown skin beneath her fingers. She received a wonderful smile and a caress on her cheek before her warrior pulled away, urging her mount to catch up with her sic'e, Nupa Olowan.
She's nineteen years old, Kathleen considered keeping the yellow shirt of her woman in sight. The same age as I when.... The distant memory of a dying man's scream echoed in her mind and she shook it, her long yellow braids shifting in front of her. The white woman turned away from the sound, searching for something to latch onto, finding her son chatting amiably with Hca Wanahca.
The pair were on the back of her lodge, being pulled by the strong mare she'd received from Anpo. Nearby, a grey colt frisked as it trailed along with its mother. Her stepan had the reins of another pony wrapped around her wrist, another ti ikceya dragging along behind it. They were singing a child's song about animals.
Kathleen's face lost its tenseness and she grinned at them. My family. I will always have Teca and Anpo.
She swooped in from the south, screaming her cry as she attacked tatankaska with a spear. The warrior's hit was solid and the white buffalo was mortally wounded. With sadness and elation, she watched tatankaska stagger closer to her younger self, blood pouring from its side and its nostrils flaring wide as it panted for breath. It fell to the ground with a solid thump, dust rising about its carcass. The Sun flared again, and she lost the image, turning away from its brightness. The light faded and she looked again, only to find the white buffalo gone.
Anpo was her younger self once again. In the buffalo's place was Ketlin. The woman's hair was long, longer than her own, and a yellow the color of the Sun itself. Her eyes were the blue of a deep lake, still and clear. She wore the standard dress that all Lakota women wore, buckskin and moccasins, her hair flowing freely in the breeze.
The child-Anpo watched in horror as the strange apparition rose from where tatankaska had been, blood pouring from the side where the white buffalo had been wounded, walking gently closer. Then the woman knelt and put a hand to her wound, bloodying her fingers. She reached forward and brushed the blood onto the young girl's face, two thunderbolts beneath the dark eyes. She could see those brilliant blue eyes staring at her intently and hear the words whispered into her ear.
"Mahasanniki." The white woman rose to her feet. From behind her emerged a hoksila who watched with solemn eyes.
"Teca?" she murmured.
Smiling fondly down at the childlike Anpo, the woman with yellow hair caressed her cheek. "Mahasanniki," she repeated. She took the toddler's hand and walked away.
The light intensified until it surrounded the mother and child, so bright she had to hide her eyes. When she was able to see, there was nothing there.
"Hiya!" Anpo gasped, fighting herself awake.
The sleeping robes pooled about her waist, her breasts hanging free in the cool early morning air. Beside her, Kathleen rumbled and rolled onto her back, holding Teca to her like a doll.
A dream! It was a dream! the warrior insisted, reaching a hesitant hand out to touch the blonde hair. They are still here. Still with me.
Teca woke a bit. He sprawled across his ina's belly, thumb tucked firmly into his mouth. Solemn eyes stared at his inanup, more asleep than awake.
The look haunted Anpo. So much like the dream.... She stilled the fear and caressed her cinksi, rubbing his back until dark eyes closed and his breath deepened into sleep.
With slow, careful movements, Anpo eased out from under the covers. When she was clear of the bedding, she dressed. The warrior left her hair free and stealthily stepped out of Kathleen's ti ikceya.
The sun had yet to come up and no one was about, all snug in slumber. On the outskirts of camp, the herd of ponies were being guarded by younger koskalaka, their presence keeping the camp and its inhabitants safe.
As the warrior passed the fire, currently a mound of ash surrounded by rock, she scooped up one of her robes. With long strides, she left Mani's camp behind.
Soon, Anpo stood at the side of a river. It was deep and swift with a small falls rumbling in a tenor voice. The sky was beginning to lighten, midnight blue giving way to the grey of dawn. Puffs of steam from her breath filled the chill air. The wikoskalaka found an outcropping that wasn't getting too much spray from the water and settled down, wrapping her robe about her.
Scouts had returned the previous day with good news. After a full moon of travel, they had found the white trader they sought. The morning would be exciting, people dressing in their finest, preparing their skins for trade, packing their lodges.
Anpo's family had spent quite a bit of time at Mani's fire after the scouts reported. The chief did his best to learn all he could from Kathleen. The picture the blonde painted of her people was not a pretty one. All the elders present at the council lodge were uncomfortable with the dangerous potential for misunderstandings.
The point was moot. There was no turning back now. Mani was wise enough to know that whether he made contact with this trader or not, others would. They would end up with the benefits that Topeya's camp had already attained.
A whisper of the dream tickled Anpo's mind and she tried to grab at it, make sense of it. For seven winters the vision had remained the same, even in her sleep. Why is it different now? All that she'd thought regarding it was put into question. Do I hurt Ketlin? Or does she hurt me!?
The warrior's heart felt the remembered hollowness as her family disappeared into the brilliant light. Will she decide to leave me for the white trader? she worried, pulling the robe tighter against the cold. Anpo immediately discarded that possibility. No. Not after what my winuhca said last night about her people. I do not see her wishing to remain with men like that.
Closing her eyes, she could hear Kathleen's voice, "Mahasanni ki," and see her walk away with Teca. And though she leaves me, she still loves me. The dark head was shaking in confusion.
"Ate, Inyan," Anpo whispered to the morning as she opened her dark eyes. "I wish you were here now to give me counsel."
Kathleen peered into the small clearing as the camp broke through the treeline. The forward scouts were there, whooping and riding around the large cabin that was belching smoke from its chimney. It was a ramshackle building made of thin logs, the entire building twice the size of the usual family settlement.
The area around the trading post had been cleared of tall grass and trees. A woodpile was beside one door with a large stump in the front yard being used as a chopping block. Already, two koskalaka had pulled the axe from it and were studying the blade closely. A separate, smaller shack was to one side. The snorting of a horse could be heard from within and it nickered at the steeds of three scouts circling.
Mani led his people down the gentle slope, resplendent in his red and yellow painted chest and a headdress that sported many eagle feathers. Behind him and fanned out were the elders and other important wicasa of his camp, all wearing their best clothing and paints, hair and bodies adorned with the proper badges and feathers of their accomplishments.
The blonde woman felt a sense of loss as the camp neared their destination. Nothing will be the same, she mourned, unsure where the emotions and thoughts were coming from.
"Ketlin! Look!" Hca exclaimed in a soft voice.
The trader had come out of the cabin. He strode a few feet out into the yard, his arms wide in welcome and a smile on his face. Of average height, he was wearing a homespun shirt and wool pants, suspenders holding them up. His hair was dark and shaggy, as curly as his beard, and parted in the middle.
Hca juggled the baby she carried in a sling across her body. "What is that on his face!?"
"Hair," Kathleen answered.
"Do all your wicasa have hair on their faces like that!?" the dark woman quizzed.
Despite her misgivings, the white woman smiled. "No, stepan. Sometimes the men shave it all off. Or they leave it above the lip or over the cheeks...." She trailed off, men's beard styles too numerous and distracting to get into.
Hca shook her head at the wonder of it all, following the people as they continued their trek.
Anpo rode with Mani and the elders. She cast one long look at her woman as they neared the white trader. A reassuring smile was sent her way and the warrior returned it before pulling her pony up and dismounting with the rest of the party.
"Hau, wicasa ska," Mani intoned, raising his hand in the signal for peace.
"How," came the response and the mirrored gesture. The trader also smiled with encouragement, showing stained and pitted teeth. "You've come to trade?" he asked, using sign language as he spoke his strange tongue.
The elders murmured a grudging respect for his knowledge, though Anpo studied him with careful eyes. He is not speaking the words that Ketlin speaks.
The chief signed back, "We come to trade."
Showing off more of his ugly teeth, the trader's grin widened and he clapped his hand together in delight. "Good! Good!" Thumping his chest, he said, "I am Jacques!"
The trader shocked the gathering by slapping the chief on the back. "Mani! Let's go see my wares!"
Only the chief's warning glance to his people kept the warriors from attacking. Arm firmly wrapped about the native's shoulder, the trader began ushering Mani into the cabin. Seemingly ignorant of the tension he was provoking, Jacques continued to babble away in his language, only releasing the young chief when he stopped to throw open the door. With a flamboyant gesture, he indicated Mani was to step inside. The elders followed.
The remainder of the camp halted their progress upon reaching the clearing. Winyan made last minute checks of the items they had brought to trade and chattered excitedly with each other. The children, sensing the emotion, ran rings around the adults and horses. The koskalaka roamed the area, studying the cabin and its environs with interest and suspicion.
Anpo drifted towards her family. She caught sight of her sic'e speaking with another warrior and holding the trader's axe. A grin was shared as their eyes met for an instant.
As the warrior neared the blonde's pony, Teca crowed, "Inanup!" from the packed lodge. The toddler stood on unsteady legs and held out his arms with insistence.
Anpo grinned and sidled her pony beside the logs that held her winuhca's ti ikceya in place. With a strong hand, she grabbed her son up to straddle the steed before her. Clucking at the horse, the warrior urged it around the lodge until they were beside her woman. "Han, winuhcala," she greeted. "Han, cuwekala, tunska."
"Han, mitankala," the dark woman answered. Jostling the sleeping baby. "Yus'as'a would say hau if he were awake." She grinned at her sister.
"Han, my warrior," Kathleen returned with a smile. Leaning against Anpo's leg, she peered upwards with worried eyes. "All is well?"
"Ohan, Ketlin. All is well." The warrior adjusted herself in the saddle as their son bounced up and down in an attempt to urge the pony onwards. "I do not think he speaks your tongue. I did not recognize any of the words."
The blonde nodded. "This far north, he would be from the French, I think."
"You cannot tell what tribe he is from by his clothing?" Hca asked.
"Hiya, stepan. Not often. Sometimes it is easy to know what a white man works at by his clothing but not what tribe he is from."
The dark woman quirked her eyebrow and shook her head at the wonder of white society. In her arms, the baby fussed to wakefulness and Hca found herself distracted from the conversation.
"What happens now, winuhcala?" Kathleen questioned as they both looked to the trader's cabin.
Anpo sighed. "Now we wait, Ketlin. When Mani and the elders have decided to trade with wicasa ska, we will be told." She looked down to the toddler who bobbed intently in her saddle, unable to make the horse go. "But first I must take my cinksi for a ride so that he will know what it is like to have a pony beneath him running like the wind!"
Used to the sudden change of topic for Teca, the blonde grinned and stepped back. "Our cinksi is already one of the best riders in camp," she insisted, her smile widening as the toddler puffed up in pride.
"Ohan, he is."
"Hau! I am!" the boy exclaimed with excitement. "Teca big warrior, inanup!"
"Big warrior," Anpo repeated with conviction as she pulled the steed away from her woman. As she kicked it into a trot, she glanced behind with a wink and a smile.
Kathleen watched them go, her heart full of pride and love for them.
It wasn't long before some of the elders emerged from the cabin with another white man. This one was older, with graying hair and craggy face. He lugged a heavy bundle to the chopping block, settling it carefully before unwrapping it. The warriors around him yipped with enthusiasm as the midday sun reflected off the steel blades.
A few of the important men stepped out and gestured their women and scouts to come inside. Some of the koskalaka elected to remain with the older trader and his knives. Nupa and Anpo both decided to follow their women.
Teca had been settled into a cradle board across his ina's back. Though he fidgeted somewhat, his dark eyes alertly studied the wonders that were in the cabin. Shiny pots and ladles hung from the rafters, all manner of strange tools and utensils lay upon the heavy wooden tables. Thick blankets and shirts of all imaginable colors, wooden boxes of different designs, a riot of color and shapes that boggled the Lakota minds.
As Kathleen made her way along the tables, a nostalgic twinge plucked at her heart. The blonde found herself answering questions about the strange items and their functions, putting her interpretation skills to quite a bit of use. With gentle fingers, she caressed a tin whistle that looked like her grandmother's.
She smelled him first, a dusty odor of sweat that indicated someone who didn't bathe often. A vague memory of her husband flitted through her mind as Kathleen looked up from a grinder, the discussion with her stepan trailing away. The younger trader was across the table from her, watching her curiously. A trickle of unease caused her to shiver.
Seeing her attention was his, the trader spoke.
French. Definitely French, lass. Kathleen shook her head. "I do not understand," she replied in Lakota. Beside her, Hca watched with intent curiosity.
The man's brow quirked, obviously not expecting the barrier. Again he spoke, this time with a heavy accent. "You speak English?"
Blinking in surprise, the blonde woman nodded.
"I am Jacques," he said. "What is name?"
"Kathleen," the woman responded. She felt a presence behind her, heard the toddler call to his inanup and relaxed a little.
The trader eyed the sudden appearance of a possessive warrior with misgiving. Subconsciously, he stood straighter and raised a chin in response to Anpo's presence. "This your buck?"
A slow burn sparked in Kathleen's heart at the phrase. Dark blue eyes flashing, she nodded again. "Yes."
Realizing he'd offended the white woman, Jacques nodded once and shrugged an apology. He scooped up the tin whistle and held it up. "You play?"
Despite herself, the blonde's anger dissipated and she gave the instrument a wistful smile. "Yes. It's been some time, though."
"Four rabbit skins and yours."
The sentimentality was chased away by her common sense. "One rabbit skin will buy you five just like it in Boston."
Jacques' face melted into a rueful grin. "Oui." He set the whistle back down on the tabletop. "But here worth four."
Lips thinning in distaste, Kathleen shook her head and stepped away from the table. Hca followed as the blonde moved to the other side of the cabin.
The trader watched her go, shaking his head. Motion caught his attention and he found himself looking up into the dark eyes of the yellow shirted warrior. Swallowing nervously, he forced himself to return the gaze.
After long minutes, Anpo leaned forward, her eyes narrowed and face stern. She watched as the ugly white man swallowed harder and sweat popped up onto his brow. A slow, feral smile grew on her face.
Jacques' heart beat double time at the implied threat. Without thought, he backed a step away from the table, away from the warrior who studied him as if he were lunch. He watched as the yellow shirted man picked up the tin whistle his woman had been eyeing and tucked it into a pouch. A wince crossed his face at the loss of a trade, but he kept his silence, knowing the savage could kill him for no reason.
The warrior straightened. With obvious disapproval for the man, Anpo tossed a bundle of furs onto the table and stalked away. She missed the heavy sigh of relief as the trader wiped his forehead.
Unable to escape his greedy nature, the man scooped up the bundle and unwrapped it. Unfurled, the furs became those of four rabbits. Dark eyebrows shot up as he realized how much the warrior had understood and a sense of urgency filled him. If these natives understand English....
Nupa, who had watched the exchange, looked up from the strange utensil he was examining to see the white trader stumble out into the yard. Hearing the other trader's name being called, he shrugged and set the fork down, continuing his path along the tables and finding a heavy wool blanket.
The small family wandered away from the still celebrating Lakota. Teca was cuddled in one of his inanup's arm, exhausted from the excitement of the day, and his mother was wrapped in the other.
Once the initial trading sessions had been completed, the winyan had set up their camp nearby and the traders were invited to feast with the people. They had accepted with wreathes of smiles on their faces. After the ti ikceyas were up and the fires lit, another bout of trading occurred.
Almost like a fair, the blonde woman mused, enjoying the strong arm draped across her shoulder. The only fly in the ointment has been the guns and whiskey.
At the proper time, the traders had come out of their cabin and joined the natives at their council fire. Along with them came their rifles and an innocuous wooden keg. They offered the chief a drink before passing the whiskey around to the other warriors, laughing uproariously as brown faces grimaced at the taste and burning sensation.
Behind Kathleen, another rifle went off near the fire where Mani was learning to shoot. She jumped in reaction before relaxing into the gentle squeeze her warrior gave her. Smiling up into dark eyes, she squeezed back where her arm was lying about a firm waist.
Fortunately, the traders couldn't understand the Lakota language. It was fairly easy for the white woman to speak with Anpo and have the warrior relay the information to the rest of those gathered at the fire. One round of the keg and no one would have another drink. The two Frenchmen seemed a bit put out, but the younger smiled and winked at Kathleen with a grudging admiration.
Reaching the lodge, the blonde woman held the leather covering aside for Anpo to duck in with her important bundle. Soon, Teca was sleeping soundly in his furs and the couple were outside by the fire.
"Hiya, winuhcala," Kathleen murmured, reaching out her hand to stop the warrior. "You need to hold the knife this way." She showed the wikoskalaka the proper angle on the whetstone. "And use pressure as you push it along."
Anpo nodded and did as she was instructed, a strange sound emitting from the flat stone she held in her hand. "Like when I sharpen my spears...?"
The blonde smiled. "Ohan! Just like that." Watching as the warrior repeated the process several times, she added, "And then you do the same on the other side until it is sharp."
They sat in silence as the honing continued, the only sounds the gentle rasp of metal on stone, the continued singing and drumming at the council fire and the occasional gunshot.
"What did the younger wicasa ska say to you?" Anpo broke the silence. She continued her work on the knife, not looking up. "I could not understand him well, his words are different than yours."
Kathleen looked into the fire. "He told me his name. Asked if you were my wicasa." An impish grin crossed her face and dark blue eyes darted to the warrior. "I told him you were."
Chuckling, Anpo tested the edge of the blade with her thumb before beginning to sharpen the other side.
"He offered me something for trade and I told him hiya." The blonde woman returned her gaze to the orange and yellow flames, leaning back and resting her weight on her palms.
"What did he offer for trade?"
The shoulders raised in an eloquent shrug. "Nothing important. Nothing useful." Kathleen sighed. "Just a toy."
Anpo nodded solemnly as she peeked at her woman. Melancholy feelings seemed to rise off the blonde as mist from a lake. Resettling herself, the warrior stopped her task and looked at her winuhca. "What did you trade for today?"
Sitting forward, Kathleen tucked her legs beneath her. "I traded for a stew pot and a cook knife," she said. "Did you trade for just the stone and knife?"
"I did trade for something else." The warrior pursed her lips in thought, eyes squinting at the distant treetops as she considered. She broke into a smile at the soft chuckle she heard. "Something I think you will enjoy." Her dark eyes flashed with anticipation as the blonde woman scooted closer in eager curiosity.
"I will? What is it?"
Anpo set the knife and whetstone aside. With agonizing slowness, she pulled the tin whistle from her pouch, hiding it in the shadows of the evening. She held it up with a flourish, her smile wide as the firelight reflected off the metal surface. "What will you trade me for it, winuhcala?"
Kathleen burst into tears.
Anpo was completely unprepared for the response. Perplexed, her smile faded away and eyes narrowed in concern. She reached out and swept Kathleen into her arms, holding her close as the blonde sobbed and sniffled. The whistle was still clutched in one brown hand, forgotten.
Eventually, Kathleen's tears faded off and she was left hiccoughing and feeling the fool. Strong arms held her close to a warm chest and she could hear the heartbeat beneath the yellow shirt.
The blonde pulled away a bit and used the end of her dress to clean her face, sniffling. "I am sorry, winuhcala."
"Shhh. Do not be sorry for having a heart, winuhcala." Anpo pulled her closer, helping the white woman to readjust her seat until she was leaning against the long form. The warrior still held the whistle and pulled it back into view. "What is this? It looks like our pipes, but not."
Kathleen smiled gently as she peered at the instrument. Her warrior had adorned it with three strips of leather, each holding respectively a feather, a quill and braided horse's hair. "It is called a tin whistle in my tongue. My unci taught me to play and I was given hers when she died."
Nodding in understanding, Anpo hugged her closer. "You loved your unci very much," she hazarded, feeling the blonde head nod against her chest. "It must have been lonely without her."
A few more tears trickled from dark blue eyes. "Ohan," she whispered. "I still feel lonely without her sometimes."