Two Talks: Many Moons of Weeping
An excerpt from Tehano, a novel by Allen Wier
Crooked Nose's tipi near the brush arbor lodge of the Kwahadi warrior, Sure Enough Hungry was surrounded by more Nimi lodges than Two Talks had ever seen in one encampment. Having lived so long in a small Pehnahterkuh band, Two Talks had never before felt the sense of power and well-being that came from being part of such a large camp. His breath swelled his chest and tightened his throat. He was Kwahadi now. Tonight, it was his turn to join other boys his age watching the band's herd of over 90-tens of ponies, more than 900 horses, including waha-eh-sa`-im-en eh sik-way-wiya, two-tens with a half roped to them, 25, of the big tabebo horses without spots that the antelope raiding party, including his father, had stolen from the blue-bottoms. Surely this was the mightiest of all Nimi bands.
The raiding party had been small, only five braves: Sure Enough Hungry and Crooked Nose; Long Teeth, a short-tempered man always ready for a fight and strong as a bear; Smoke Hair, whose hair had been gray since childhood, who was the best tracker in the band; and Ten Buffalo, who had taken the medicine bag from his father, Corn Eater, and joined the Kwahadi when Corn Eater went on the reservation. Their women had stayed behind to gather berries while they were ripe. The raiders had left eight sleeps ago, late in the night, after fires and dancing but before Father in Heaven shone down on them. They had returned just the day before with the blue-bottom horses, and the entire band had celebrated, honoring Sure Enough Hungry and his fellow warriors with roasted buffalo and story-telling and dancing long into the night. All day, Two Talks had been tired, a good-feeling tiredness, from the late-night fun. The Cherokee girl, Small Nose, had slipped from her father's tipi and crawled beneath Two Talk's robe in the brush arbor, where he now slept by himself. She had thrashed and bucked against him until Father in Heaven had reddened the sky. Soon Two Talks would seek his special totem and become a warrior and capture enough ponies to purchase Small Nose or a Nimi girl to be his wife and sew buffalo hides or cut willow limbs for Two Talks' own kahni or lodge. He would sit in that tipi and recount his own victories on the warpath. This evening, in his father's tipi, he listened with hungry pride to his father's words.
"We rode south like a strong wind," Crooked Nose said. He puffed his cheeks and blew out, making the lonely, whine song of wind. Embers in the small fire in the center of the floor glowed red with Crooked Nose's howling breath. He grabbed the green stalk of a wild onion from the horn bowl and flipped the wet, pale bulb onto the coals. Drops of water hissed in the ashes and pale green smoke filled the tipi with sweet onion-singe that stung Two Talks' eyes. His father chomped down on the browned onion and continued his tale while he chewed. "First sun, Smoke Hair found a live trail of many tabebo horses. Sure Enough Hungry had good puha and a warrior's eye," he said.
Sure Enough Hungry, a civil chief of the Antelope band, was the warrior who had proposed the raid. Not only had his puha been strong and the raid successful, he had also been generous, dividing the stolen horses among the other raiders and keeping none for himself. Crooked Nose had been given nabaehte', six new horses. Now Crooked Nose's own herd numbered over 100. Two Talks thought his father was now a rich man.
Crooked Nose's eyes glowed red like the fire coals. He raised his fist as if gripping his bow, and he said, "The second day of our ride Long Teeth killed a young buffalo with a single arrow from many steps away. I have seen few finer bow shots."
"Perhaps coyote had chased the young bull away from his herd in order to give you fresh meat," Grandfather Red Dog said. The old man leaned back and got a deerskin pouch, opened it and offered his son and grandson spicewood leaves. They both shook their heads. Crooked Nose waited to resume his story while Red Dog dug around in the pouch for the leaves he wanted. Two Talks watched his grandfather, listening for anything further he had to say about the appearance of the lone buffalo in Crooked Nose's recitation. Red Dog's arms moved, his elbows up like wings, bringing brown pinches of leaves to his lips, and his shadow arms flew like Nighthawks, crisscrossing the glowing coals of the fire. In the red fireglow, the old warrior's tattooed scars shone like the blades of steel knives. He grinned and nodded for Crooked Nose to continue. Specks of leaf blackened Grandfather Red Dog's shining teeth, and inside the tipi woodsmoke wafted sweetpepper scent that tickled Two Talks' nose.
"We drank the buffalo calf's blood but left the heart inside the ribs to honor Coyote," Crooked Nose said. "That night Coyote's pups tore at the carcass and yipped their thanks to us. I knew Sure Enough Hungry's puha was strong for this raid. We crossed the River Colored by Clay, and followed the red water toward the rising red sun."
Crooked Nose stopped talking long enough to chew the rest of the onion, green stalks disappearing into his mouth. Two Talks made a frowning face. Grandfather Red Dog chuckled. Two Talks did not like the bittersweet, fire-blackened onions. His father loved them as much as his grandfather loved the shredded spicewood leaves. Prairie Star kept green onions in the tipi whenever she or Persimmon could find them, but both wives teased their husband about his craving for the burnt taste.
"We rode all the way to the Blue Water River, Evivit Paa Pia Hunubi, that the Mexicans call, in their talk, Brazos de Dios, Arms of Our Father in Heaven," Crooked Nose said. "On the other side of the Blue Water we made camp with no fire and waited. When Our Father in Heaven rose to light our way, we walked our ponies up a hill near enough to the tabebos' Fort Belknap to see cooking smokes rise. A short ride beyond, smokes rose from their Camp Cooper."
Two Talks remembered his trip, many suns ago, to Camp Cooper with Grandfather Red Dog, both of them on the back of White Rump, who had carried Two Talks to victory over the big black stallion the blue bottoms had mistreated so. Thinking of the black and of the Cherokee girl, Small Nose, they'd won that day in the horse race, Two Talks smiled at his grandfather, but Red Dog stared into the fire coals.
"I had ridden my strong, slow pony, Red Ears, the day before, resting Sugar for the raid," Crooked Nose said. "I think Sugar smelled the blue bottoms. She trembled so, I almost wrapped her head. I whispered into her ear that she must be calm and save her strength for our attack. Then she grew as still as a boulder on the hillside."
"After White Rump, Sugar is the fastest horse I know," Grandfather said.
Two Talks had an urge to go find White Rump and hold the horse's big, boney, one-eared head in his arms and stare down into the always-looking-up eye of the horse and thank him again for being the fastest ugly horse that ever lived, thank him for running so fast that now-gone day when Two Talks had won Small Nose from the tabebo soldiers.
Small Nose was outside with Prairie Star at the cook fire. Crooked Nose had said he would sell the girl soon, unless a warrior left horses at their tipi for her. Listening to his father recount his adventures, Two Talks ached for the time when he might seek his own vision and prove himself on the war trail. He determined to seek Red Dog's counsel. His grandfather would help Two Talks choose the moon he would walk under when he went on his vision quest. If he could become a warrior soon enough, he could capture horses of his own to tie at his father's tipi to ask for Small Nose as his bride.
"The blue bottoms rode out of their Fort Belknap as small-looking as ants in a line as long as cuuna wobi-puc, the fire-wagon-horse, the tabebo call Locomotive," Crooked Nose said. "Sure Enough Hungry has one of the looking reeds of the tabebo. It stretches to the length of an arrow and lets you look through it for as far as an arrow flies. He seized it many winters ago, counting coup on a long knife chief during a big battle."
But how, Two Talks wondered, could he possibly find his medicine and ride a war trail and win ponies of his own, all before some other brave chose Small Nose? It seemed impossible, but if he had strong enough medicine all things were possible. Grandfather Red Dog had always told Two Talks that he'd been brought to their tipi by Brother Coyote himself. But when Two Talks asked Grandfather if that meant Coyote was to be his totem, the crafty, old warrior said that only Two Talks could find the answer to that question.
"When Sure Enough Hungry's looking reed touched my eye, the ants grew men's faces and appeared as close to me," Crooked Nose reached and touched, first, Red Dog, then, Two Talks, "as you are now, my father, and you, my son." Red Dog shook his head at the wonder of the looking reed. "These were the eyes of one that Sure Enough Hungry named as the tabebo chief, the Major Van Dorn." "My ears do not know this blue-bottom name," Red Dog said.
"Sure Enough Hungry says the Major Van Dorn was sent from the white man's Great Father in Washington Land to kill all the Nimi he can see. His eyes in the looking reed blinked like Mupitz, Owl, when he looks beneath the moon for his prey. The eyes of this new blue bottom have the hungry look of Mupitz when he has not fed well."
The back of Two Talks' neck tightened. His father and grandfather and other braves in the band usually laughed about the long knives as warriors: how they formed lines when they fought lines of blue that made easy arrow targets how big and slow their horses were, how they carried no shields. This was different, to name a blue bottom as strong as Mupitz, a deadly night hunter. Could it be that the white Father in Washington Land was sending a different kind of blue bottom to fight for him? Could there be any blue bottoms as brave and as cunning and as strong as a Nimi warrior?
"All morning we hid ourselves in a grove of trees, made ourselves disappear as Cuyoni', Turkey, does in a thicket," Crooked Nose said. "All morning, Sugar stood still and did not speak to the blue-bottom horses. The tabebo went by so close we could have each killed ten sticks of them with our arrows. The Major Van Dorn rode a big, red mare with white leggings above her front hooves. Blue-bottom braves at the end of the line led a herd of fresh mounts, and some drove wagons heavy with the corn they feed their horses."
"Why do they drag wagons of corn where Our Father in Heaven makes good grass grow for all ponies?" Two Talks asked.
"The blue-bottoms are sent from the tabebos' Great Father in Washington Land. Maybe there is no grass there, so their horses do not know how good it is?" Crooked Nose said.
Red Dog laughed his growling, frowning, head-shaking laugh that meant he was amazed by the foolishness of the blue bottoms in battle. Grandfather's laugh made Two Talks feel better, made him bold to speak again. "Nimi ponies are smart, that they do not tell the tabebo horses where to graze and find the sweetest-tasting grass," he said. Red Dog laughed again. He said, "If the big tabebo horses knew our ponies' secrets, they would surely crop all the grass and leave it to dry up and blow away, as the tabebo hunters kill the buffalo for his robe and leave his sweet meat to Raven and Coyote."
"I have no respect for the blue-bottom band," Crooked Nose said. "I told Sure Enough Hungry that we should never let them cross our land. I wanted to send my arrow through one owl-eye of the chief Major Van Dorn, but Ten Buffalo said that Sure Enough Hungry's puha was strong against the Tehanos, not the blue bottoms. Sure Enough Hungry said he was grateful for the words of Ten Buffalo who carried the medicine bag. Sure Enough Hungry said that the words of Ten Buffalo were as weighty as a stone in your hand, as clear as the rings of water made when you drop the stone in a pool. Sure Enough Hungry said that this line of blue bottoms was as endless as a line of ants at a buffalo kill, and he said the only tabebo chief the Nimi had to fear was the war chief, Captain Ford, and his warriors, those the Tehanos, Texans, call Rangers. These Tehano Rangers can ride fast and long, can move invisible, and fight almost as well as Nimi braves."
Grandfather Red Dog nodded. "They are not so foolish as the blue bottoms who show themselves and move together in slow lines, as Wiya-papi, Rope Heads, our Kiowa friends do when they dance before their taim dolls of stone."
Two Talks shook his head. "Don't the blue bottoms know the difference between a dance and a fight? How do they ever win a battle?"
"To have enough blue bottoms to send so many," said Grandfather Red Dog, "I think the tabebos' Great Father in Washington Land must make them very quickly. In his haste, I think he forgets to put in them the sense of a warrior. Even without the sense of a warrior, their many numbers help them give the Nimi a good battle, sometimes. But we always take many scalps, so there will be very few of these poor warriors to crowd the Nimi in the Good Hunting Land."
Though he did not say so, Two Talks thought that he would never understand the ways of the white man's Great Father in Washington Land.
"Sure Enough Hungry led us; without sounds we followed behind the blue-bottoms' dust," said Crooked Nose. "We stayed in the cool shadows of the trees. When Our Father in Heaven was high overhead the dust sat down on the trail, and the line of tabebo horses crossed the short grass to a small Tehano lodge made of the lying down tree trunks. Nearby there was also a horse lodge and pen. The horse lodge was bigger than the Tehano lodge. The blue-bottoms took their heavy saddles off their tired horses and put them on their unridden horses. Then they rode across the grass again to the trail, and the dust went with them toward the staked plain. Only two Tehanos lived in the small lodge, and none of the blue bottoms remained behind to help guard the horses."
Two Talks looked at his grandfather who grinned wide and whistled air through the corners of his mouth where he had no teeth. All three of the men shook their heads and laughed softly.
"I counted paiste-eh-sa'-im-en, three tens, 30, of the big horses. Sure Enough Hungry said 'paiste-eh-sa'-imen eh paiste, three tens and three,' he thought. The Tehanos took the best looking horses, nameuat zeuhte', eight- of them, and closed them in the horse lodge for the night. Sure Enough Hungry had us wait until we were sure the Tehanos were warm in their sleep. It was an easy thing to open the pen and quietly walk the big horses out. But when we got inside the horse lodge, we found the eight best horses inside eight stalls, each stall with two, heavy lodge poles laid across its opening, each thick pole chained on both ends and held with iron locks. I could not think of a way to jump these horses over the poles. But Sure Enough Hungry grinned and took a Tehano rope from the wall. He signaled Ten Buffalo and me to crawl with him into the first stall that held the big mare with the white, front leggings. He ran the rope around all four of the mare's legs and slowly drew the rope tight. I spoke to the mare that she would not be afraid and whine or whistle. Ten Buffaloes and I held her side and helped her fall soft into the dry grass piled in the stall. On her side she was not too tall to pass beneath the lowest pole, and we dragged her out, leaving the still-chained, still-locked stall empty. Soon we had all eight of these best horses dragged under the chained poles and out of their stalls. They were the fine, strong mounts of the tabebo chiefs."
"What of the sleeping Tehanos," asked Red Dog.
"Long Teeth said we should wake them with our knives. He said four of us could count coup, two first and two second coups, and then hang their scalps on our poles. But Sure Enough Hungry said that would be foolish vanity. Were two first coups and two scalps worth risking these good horses? 'The Tehano lodge,' Sure Enough Hungry said, 'has no windows, only the small openings their guns spit through. And they may have the rifles that speak over and over without reloading.' Long Teeth said Sure Enough Hungry talked like a frightened Nipanii, Apache, before the Nimi drove them from their dirt farms."
Red Dog shook his head. "Long Teeth fights better than he thinks," he said.
"They say he is stronger and angrier than a bear," Two Talks said. Since joining the antelope band, Two Talks had heard many tales of the temper and the fighting fury of the brave, Long Teeth.
Red Dog said, "I have seen a bear caught in a pit the lowly Nipanii, Apaches, dug in the earth and covered with branches. They teased the beast for days, then let their women kill it. A Tehano rifle can speak once and fell the largest bear. A warrior is never afraid to die, but he does not choose death when he thinks of a way to fight for many suns to come."
"Long Teeth asked Sure Enough Hungry who was going to stop him from rousing the Tehanos and taking their scalps," Crooked Nose said. "Sure Enough Hungry said he was that one. We were still inside the Tehano horse lodge and none of us, not even the tabebo horses, breathed while Long Teeth looked long and deep into the eyes of Sure Enough Hungry. I looked, too. There in Sure Enough Hungry's eyes, stretched out in the piled grass between the empty horse stalls, lay Long Teeth's body, his eyes staring back at me. He must have seen himself there, too. He went outside and mounted his pony and rode away, leaving only four of us still on the raid. We followed Long Teeth's trail back here, driving the blue bottom horses. When we four reached this camp, Sure Enough Hungry cut out nabaehte', six, horses and then six more and again two more times until there were four sixes plus simi, one. Sure Enough Hungry gave Ten Buffalo, Smoke Hair and me each a string of six horses. He added the one remaining horse to the last string of six, and we thought he was keeping those seven for himself. But he said that while we had all ridden well and been brave, that among us only Long Teeth had done battle Long Teeth had fought with himself and won, won for all of us. Then Sure Enough Hungry led the string of seven to Long Teeth's tipi."
Crooked Nose stared into the darkening coals. Red Dog nodded silently. Two Talks wanted to hear what Long Teeth had said when Sure Enough Hungry gave him the horses, but Crooked Nose stood and said, "Subeti, that is all," and yawned, stretching his arms out and bending back his elbows as a rooster works his wings when crowing.
Prairie Star and Persimmon entered the tipi and knelt to the buffalo rugs, smoothing the bed of Crooked Nose. Red Dog went to his bed on the far side of the tipi. After Crooked Nose lay down, Prairie Star and Persimmon and the Cherokee, Small Nose, followed. Prairie Star under the same robe as Crooked Nose, Persimmon next to Prairie Star, so that Prairie Star lay between her husband and his number two wife. Small Nose had a narrow place near the opening into the tipi.
Two Talks passed the empty brush arbor he had made for himself just outside the tipi. If he were not going to watch the herd this night, he might knot a length of rawhide around Small Nose's ankle so that if he wanted her to warm his bed inside the arbor, he would need only give a tug. Had he not been excited that he was being trusted to watch the horses, he could not have stayed awake after so many hours of singing and dancing and eating and listening to warriors recount raids and battles they had been on. For most of the band, the excitement was over now, and even the camp curs were sleeping.
Two Talks spotted White Rump in the quiet herd and made his way toward the rangy, old horse. White Rump came over to Two Talks, nuzzling the boy's arm, the horse's thick, warm tongue taking in the salt-taste of dried sweat inside Two Talk's elbow. A ridge of limestone rose along one side of the grassy field the herd grazed. Here, on a smooth outcropping, Two Talks settled himself. The old pony stood nearby and switched his tail in the night breeze.
There was no moon and White Rump was a pale shape of light in the darkness, as if a spirit ghost floated beside Two Talks. The steady, low breeze stirred the grass and sent a ripple down the horse's back.
"You beautiful, ugly one," Two Talks said and the horse shook his head, his bright eye a spot of shine hovering in the black air, a star hung low in the heavens.
By the time Two Talks began telling White Rump the third version of how he would prepare for his upcoming vigil to seek his personal puha, a soft gray light was growing in the east. Two Talks pointed out how fortunate he was to have the guidance of Grandfather Red Dog who, as White Rump knew well, had made very strong magic in his day. "I will fast for four suns," Two Talks told White Rump. "I will smoke sumac leaves and pray and even open my flesh that the blood and pain might keep my thoughts focused and my heart pure." As he talked to the aging horse, Two Talks, who had slept little in the past two days, almost felt the waking-sleep feeling Grandfather had described as the part of the vigil that would precede a vision. Two Talks stared at White Rump, whose one good ear rose, like a distant mountain peak, dark against the light that came before Father in Heaven stood up above the edge of the earth. Then White Rump's ear twitched, and Two Talks heard something, too, a bleating that honked lonely, from high, high above and he looked up for a goose. By the time his heart beat one more time, Two Talks was thinking how the goose cry was not a song of this green grass time. He remembered the one other sound that echoed a goose's call. He put his ear to the rock he leaned against and felt horse weight like thunder inside the ground, and he remembered the flash of gold against the kissing lips of the blue bottom at Camp Cooper when he'd played the mouth-drum the long knives call Bugle.
Two Talks leapt from the rock ledge onto White Rump's warm back, and the pony ran fast as the goose flies. tipis and lodges bobbed up and down rushing toward them, goosecalls now strung together like running water. The slap and clink of leather and metal echoed all around him, and the snort of horsebreath and wheeze of blue bottom breath beat warm against his back. The band's huge herd ran with him and from him, all around him ponies scattered like hundreds of brown and tan leaves blowing over the grass and between the tipis and lodges. Two Talks' voice caught in his throat, so that his warning came out like the honking war cry of the Bugle that chased after him. All the Nimi were slow to rise from their heavy sleeps of happy exhaustion. Two Talks' voice finally worked. "Tabebo," he cried.
Now the camp stirred: Everywhere dogs barked; one dog, run over by a stampeding horse, yelped and yelped. A cookpot clanged over and over, bounced and rolling between horses' hooves. Braves with wild, uncombed hair and no war paint poked out of tipis like brown moles from nests in the earth. Now the tabebo rifles barked louder than the frenzied dogs. Nimi hurried out of every tipi and lodge, women carrying and chasing children, men kneeling to notch arrows to bows.
By the time Two Talks reached the tipi of his father, Crooked Nose was putting Prairie Star and Persimmon both on the back of a horse he had caught. Two Talks yelled, yee, yee, oh no, oh no, and slid down off White Rump. Prairie Star, who had one leg up on the horse where Persimmon sat, dropped back to the ground and ran to meet her son. White Rump did not even completely stop in the second it took for Two Talks to dismount and Prairie Star to pull herself up by the pony's mane. Then White Rump was running, as if he knew he was to get Prairie Star to safety. Crooked Nose slapped the bottom of the other horse and it carried Persimmon off after White Rump. Then Crooked Nose tossed Two Talks a bow and a quiver of arrows.
In front of their tipi, Red Dog knelt, arrows coming from his bow as hornets rise from an angry nest. A horse screamed, and Two Talks turned. A tabebo horse collapsed and rolled in a dustcloud of its own making, blood running from Red Dog's arrow in the animal's neck. The old warrior hurried over to the blue bottom rider whose leg was caught beneath the writhing horse. Red Dog smashed a rock down on the man's skull and in one motion brought his knife across the man's forehead. "Aieee," Grandfather Red Dog cried as he jerked up on the hair and peeled back the scalp, hacked it free of the skull with another flash of his knife. One more cut sliced the bucking horse's throat and stilled the beast so that Red Dog might crouch behind him for protection from the tabebo bullets that were ripping holes through the hide tipi and sinking into cedar lodgepoles and into the dead horse and into the earth itself with the soft, deep sounds of sighs and groans.
Groans and moans rose over the campground and filled every space between the lodges, the way smoke rises over coals and drifts wherever it wants. Now the long knives on their big horses made one wide wall of brown and blue that thundered across the camp. They threw torches everywhere, setting fire to tipis and thatched lodges, burning hide bags of dried meat, mesquite flour, fresh berries. Crooked Nose seized the rifle that the dead blue bottom still held, wrestled it from the dead man's grip and fired into the tabebos. By the time he emptied the rifle he hit three blue bottoms and two of their horses.
"Waha Tekwari, Waha Tekwari," Small Nose cried. Two Talks was just fitting another arrow to his bow that he might finish the Owl-eyed, long knife chief. Small Nose had never before spoken his name. A blue bottom who had jumped from his horse and grabbed the girl was back in his saddle, pulling Small Nose up with him. Two Talks loosed an arrow at the man's mouth of hair, but with one arm the man jerked Small Nose up in front of himself as if she were a shield. The arrow pierced the girl's throat; her eyes opened wide, but she did not cry out.
Still holding Small Nose, the tabebo spurred his horse. From deep in Two Talks' chest a growl began that came out of his throat like the howl of an angry wolf. On foot, he gave chase. The tabebo horse chopped sideways, then reared and bolted forward. In that moment of the animal's confusion in the din of yells and rifle reports and hoofbeats, Two Talks caught the horse's dark tail and pulled himself up behind the blue bottom. The man turned in his saddle and thrust Small Nose between them. Two Talks was so close that the blue bottom could not use his rifle. The horse labored, galloping under the weight of the tree of them. The blue bottom threw his rifle at Two Talks like a club, but Two Talks knocked it away and it bounced off the side of a tipi. Two Talks grabbed for the man who thrust Small Nose between them, the arrow bobbing in her neck. Two Talks and the tabebo slapped at each other as the three of them bounced along beside the river, beyond the camp. Rifle shots behind them became no more than forest twigs snapping underfoot. The howling of a dog came to Two Talks as Coyote's distant nighttime wail. The moans of men, women and children whirled together as the whine of the plains wind.
Two Talks had never seen eyes that held so much white as this tabebo's. The man reached to his waist for a pistol, and let the horse's long reins drop. The ends of the reins hit the ground and bounced up, dropped back; the galloping horse stepped on one end of the reins and jerked its head down into its churning legs. The animal pitched head first into the ground. Thrown forward against the man, Two Talks wrapped his arms around the tabebo as a bear squeezes the trunk of a tree it climbs. Hurtling through the air, Two Talks groped for Small Nose, but she was gone. Two Talks landed on top of the man who was slammed hard into the short grass. Two Talks' chest burned, refusing to breathe. The earth trembled like the skin of a struck drum, and he felt like the drum club. When the earth stilled, the tremor moved inside his head and moved every one of his teeth. He seized the tabebo's head and lifted it from the grass, one hand gripping the man's chin and the other holding a clump of the hair above his forehead. Two Talks jerked both his hands against one another as if he were throwing a buffalo calf. He felt the give of muscle and then the snap and let loose of bone. Behind the man's neck several long points of bone broke the skin as pale wood pierces bark when a limb splinters; a white knob of bone rose up from warm, pooling blood. Two Talks sliced the scalp off the front of the blue bottom's head. Two Talks stood, one foot planted in the middle of the man's broad back, and answered Coyote with his own wail of blood fury. The tabebo's big boots dug two smooth places in the grass, muscle spasms moving his legs back and forth as if he were trying to walk down into the inside of the earth. The horse, only stunned, had gotten to its feet and was now grazing, its yellow teeth loudly pulling the tough grass loose.
Two Talks ran to Small Nose who lay on her back as if she had stretched out to take a nap. When he knelt to her body, he was surprised to see a large bullet hole in her chest oozing black-looking blood. Her mouth rested in a straight line, her countenance unfrowning. Gray clouds had come to rest in her upward staring eyes. He lifted her and found the smaller hole where the bullet had entered her back. His arrow had gone through the side of her neck. She had landed so that the arrowhead was sunk into the earth. Cradling the back of her head in his palm, he pulled her up into his arms and held her close.
Two Talks cut the skin of Small Nose's neck where it held his arrow and lifted the shaft out. With the barbed arrowhead that held the Cherokee girl's blood, he opened the flesh of his right hand. He held his bleeding hand against her neck so that his blood mixed with hers. He gripped the bloody arrow shaft and left his blood with hers there, too. This arrow he would save for a tabebo chief.
Two Talks picked up the reins of the still grazing tabebo horse, and he put his moccasin in the stepping place tabebos hang from each side of their horses and stepped up and swung himself into the wide seat of the saddle. How did the blue bottom ride in a saddle that was so stiff and heavy you could not feel the horse warm beneath you, could not know the tightening and stretching out of hide and flesh? When he sat in the blue bottom saddle, Two Talks' feet did not reach the stepping places where the blue bottoms held their feet when they rode. He squeezed his knees and leaned into the reins and the big horse turned easily. He brought both heels softly against the horse's sides and the willing animal was soon at full gallop, headed back toward the center of the camp. He had arrows yet to spend.
It seemed he had drawn few breaths before he was back in camp, but the long knives were already gone. Like a wind full of lightning and hail they had swept over the camp. Women and children lay twisted over dead dogs and upended cook pots their heads and chests and backs gaped red, gored by bullets as a knife digs the red fruit from a melon. Here and there a brave was stretched in a pool of blood making a deep red mud of the settling clouds of dust. Quail Song knelt over the body of Long Teeth, her head thrown back, her knotted throat moving up and down with her loud, keening song. Without interrupting her grief wail, she took from his belt Long Teeth's hunting knife that he had had no chance to draw and hacked off the fingers of her left hand. Babes still on their cradle boards bled into the ashes of a cookfire, into piles of strewn blackberries from rent and charred hide bags, into the thorny spines of yucca or wild roses where their tiny corpses had been slung. Worse were the near- and not-yet dead Lance Shaker who carried the medicine bag for the Kwahadi, as Ten Buffalo carried it for all the former Pehnahterkuh who had joined the band, sat staring at the white curve of his intestine that poked through the hole where a bullet had passed, his own innards slowing the painful flow of blood that would let him die; White Rose, a big, sweet girl Two Talks had played with as a child, screamed and thrashed against her mother and sister who tried to hold her still, her swollen belly soaked dark with the blood of the babe she would now deliver dead, hit by one of the many bullets that had missed its mother.
Two Talks and Crooked Nose and Sure Enough Hungry rode a circle wide around the camp on both sides of the river. The blue bottom tracks were many, including almost all the band's over three hundred horses. There were the slick trails of wagons, some deep with the weight of the big-as-a-man, loud tabebo guns that had made dry ponds in the spaces where tipis had stood. With his looking reed, Sure Enough Hungry found the red cloud at the place where the sky lies on top of the grass. Sure Enough Hungry handed the looking reed to Crooked Nose and shook his head. "The tabebo Father in Washington Land has emptied all the pocketsful of blue bottoms in his greatcoat and spilled them all in our path. Never before have I seen such a deep red dust of blue bottoms," Sure Enough Hungry said.
"Can we catch them, Father?" asked Two Talks.
"We might," said Crooked Nose, "just as you might leap after a rattlesnake that has bitten you once and land in the den where all the rattlesnakes of the world wait to bite you many times to death. Better to stalk them, to kill them and cut off their rattles one at a time until you wear so many rattles the other snakes hear you coming and shake their rattles in fear and give away their hiding places."
Two Talks held out his arrow stained by the blood of Small Nose and himself. "My arrow knows the taste of blood now," he said.
The three returned to camp where the women were tending to the wounded and dying. Five sticks of ten plus nabaehte', six, fifty-six of the Antelope band had been killed, most of them women and children. But, even though they had been surprised at dawn, the Antelope warriors had put their arrows into many of the blue bottoms, including the chief Major Dorn who rode away with Two Talks' arrow still chewing his flesh. The tabebo raiders had left behind, as they always did, many of their wounded and dead where they fell. The Kwahadi women alternated their heartbreaking chores of treating the wounds and burying the bodies of their children, their families, and their friends with vicious exorcisms of their horror and their anger against blue-bottom corpses, which they painstakingly mutilated, and against the few tabebos so unlucky that their wounds had not been immediately fatal. These unfortunates were tortured in ways intended to keep them alive and suffering for as long as possible so that their screams and weeping might salve the wounded bodies and the wounded hearts of this still mighty Kwahadi band of the Nimi.
"Like the old dog from whom I got my name, I have had many good hunts. I should now be drowned in the river so that I don't grow so fond of sleeping by the fire that I die as pitifully as an Apache farmer, wrapped in his blankets, blind, with no blood scent in his nostrils. But like the heart of the bitch whose litter has been eaten by a mountain lion, my angry heart will not let my body rest until I have tracked and killed that same cougar. I demand a good day to die, not this day of tears. I demand that my one strong pup, Crooked Nose, and his pup, Two Talks, have that same good day to die."
Sure Enough Hungry stood up, and he took Two Talks by the arm and walked beside him before the rest of the warriors. "I have not known the joy of a close good friend my children are all daughters. One sister buries the other. We know many moons of weeping. But I claim the shared fathering of all our good young ones who are soon to be men among us." He put his hand on Two Talks' shoulder and he looked long and steady into Two Talks' eyes. Then he spoke to all the Kwahadi warriors, "This is a strong one, ready to be a great warrior as his grandfather and father before him are great warriors. I believe this one will have great magic against all our enemies. Now, our women have many wounds to wash, many bodies to stand in the rocks. While our women bind our hurts, we must seek the right time to travel the war road against the Tehanos, against all tabebos. This one, Two Talks, may be the one to lead us." Sure Enough Hungry nodded at the big warrior who carried the medicine bag of all the Pehnahterkuh who had joined the Kwahadi band, "Ten Buffalo," even in your sleep, be prepared to assist this one when he hears himself call himself, and he comes to you for purification. With the death of Lance Shaker, you now carry the medicine bag for all in this band of Kwahadi."
"I will be ready to assist any near-warrior of the Kwahadi in all the suns and moons to come," said Ten Buffalo. "And now, as we must return to tipis where Coyote has us in his teeth and shakes us until he decides to let go, I will seek healing medicines for the Kwahadi that our wounds may scar over, that our rent places may grow back stronger for having been torn apart."
"Subeti, that is all," said Sure Enough Hungry. Two Talks walked to the place in the rocks that Prairie Star and Persimmon had prepared for the girl, Small Nose. Though she was not born Nimi and had not been adopted or married into The People, she had become Nimi in her way of dying and they buried her as one of The People, wrapped in soft, beaded doeskin, standing in a deep hole in a rock cliff, facing Our Father in Heaven every morning where he stands up.
When the rock was rolled over the opening to Small Nose's grave, Crow lighted on the limb of a hairy cottonwood and called out, Caw. Two Talks looked up and saw himself sitting there, high in the tree, beside the black bird.
Out loud, Two Talks said, "Crow, what do you want with me?"
Allen Wier is the author of three novels, a collection of stories, and an editor who has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Fellowship in Fiction, and the Dobie-Paisano Fellowship from the Texas Institute of Letters. He received the Chubb LifeAmerica Robert Penn Warren Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 1997, and he teaches writing and literature at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Copyright © The Southerner 1999.