White and Blue
Next Community Writing Program Workshop: Elements of Writing Craft: Aug. 25. For more information, 479-292-3665 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is a world of white and blue. And it is in the half world of blue where Grey Bear's mind wills himself to be. His spirit is up there, floating through the light winds in the cloudless sky above the half world of white, the half world of death and ghosts. He frees himself from these things and looks with detachment at the vast prairie, the wide flatlands with the River of the Sun etching through and flowing east. He sees the lone dark figure of himself on the sorrel moving west along the river to its source in the mountains.
But even in the half world of blue his spirit still looks away from the river. It is a river like the Marias, with ice reaching from its banks to its center, where a thin swath of open water still flows. The river meanders through the white flat prairie where its ice merges with the snows until it, too, disappears where the two half worlds meet. It is not the Marias, but the sight of it brings the ghosts to his mind so he still looks away.
There are no other living things in the half world of white. No sign of game, no tracks of horse or man, friend or enemy. There are only the tracks of the sorrel.
Dull pain creeps up the insides of Grey Bear's thighs. He is no longer in the half world of blue but back on the endless prairie. The sorrel exhales a thick stream of warm breath. The horse's eyes are steady, ears twitching, mane flowing back in the winds. Dark sweat outlines the blanket. The sorrel's muscles move in a steady rhythm.
The two half worlds of sky and earth meet at the western horizon, and yet the horizon belongs to neither world. Grey Bear's dark eyes squint, trying to see the mountains of his youth. They are too far and he gives up, focusing instead on the horizon itself, a place far off, a place of nothing, belonging nowhere, a place from which he comes and a place he goes in this half world of white.
Before the Napikwan, the Piegan most feared Thunder. The enemy Crow, Flathead, or Kootenai could be fought; the bear could be run from or tricked; sickness could be cured, but the Piegan could not escape Thunder. He shouts across the prairie, and he cries out from the tops of mountains. Thunder does not like the lone cliffs or the trees or the standing man. He topples them all to the ground and crushes them.
Long ago, a Piegan warrior was awakened by Thunder's cries. He was knocked senseless, and his lodge burned to the ground. When he awoke he found his wife was missing.
Maybe she goes to fetch water or wood, he thought. But another moon passed and she had not returned, so this warrior was angered and sought out Thunder. On his quest, he encountered Raven.
Raven asked, "Where do you journey?"
The warrior said, "I seek the dwelling place of Thunder, for he has stolen my wife."
Raven's wings fluttered. "You dare to enter the lodge of Thunder? You know he takes without asking and destroys anything that displeases him, but know also that the lodge of Thunder is decorated with eyes, eyes of those he has taken. And you wish to enter his lodge still?"
"I must," said the warrior.
Raven handed the man one of his feathers. "There is only one who Thunder fears and it is I, the chief of the Ravens. He fears me because I have the vision he cannot possess, all the eyes in his lodge do not have the vision that is mine. So my medicine is the greater. Take the feather, and it will protect you."
The warrior took the feather and walked many moons to Thunder's stone lodge. He entered and his heart grew small when he saw the many eyes that hung from the rock walls. He looked with horror until a voice boomed and echoed off the high walls.
"Who dares to enter my lodge? No man enters this place and lives!"
"You have my wife; you have stolen her," said the warrior. "There on the wall hang her eyes."
Thunder rose to strike the warrior, but the man took the Raven feather from his medicine bag. Thunder shuddered and stepped back. The warrior's heart grew bigger and he approached closer.
"Stop," said Thunder. "Your medicine is the stronger. You shall have your wife back." And she appeared by his side.
"You know me," said Thunder. "I have a great power. I make the rains come and the grasses grow and the berries ripen." Thunder handed his medicine pipe to the man. "You and your people will pray to me every spring. You will fill and smoke this pipe, and pray that I bring you these things with the passing of each winter. Now go."
Grey Bear watches the light snows fall on the flat prairie, and he remembers how his father would always end the story.
"And so that is how," Grey Bear's father had said, "our people got the first medicine pipe. It was long ago."
The Napikwan, Grey Bear thinks, take without asking; they do not like the lone cliffs or the trees which they cut down or the standing man whom they topple and crush. They, too, covet the thing they think is real but is not. The Raven has the greater medicine, but what is greater than the Napikwan? What do they fear?
I am a father no more, Grey Bear thinks, nor a husband. His lips tighten.
He dismounts, drops his lead rope, takes the horse blanket, and kicks the snows from the earth to make his bedding. He lies down with the blanket and the blackhorn robe, closes his eyes and sleeps, dreamless, in neither half-world like the horizon.