Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hard Morning on the Prairie

     The village was waking up, slowly. Maybe the dance the day before had been a little too much for the old folks- but me and Teardrop Star were up early anyway, trying to make a game of checking on the ponies. The ponies were all kept by the river, where we knew no enemies could approach but to come right through the village first.

     I don’t know how it happened, except that, one minute Teardrop Star was there beside me, we had tied a long rope from a tree back toward one of the council tents. But then he was gone. I never heard it. He was just gone. I hadn’t heard it, but somehow, the enemy had come and stifled him, and dragged him off.

     At least, that was what he told me, in the aftermath. It must have been Wakan Tanka kept me from learning where he went- but anyway, soon I would have a lot worse problems.

      Not long after Teardrop Star was gone (and I spent some minutes walking up and down the grassy bank of the river, calling for him) I heard it. It was as it often was, whether it was soldiers coming or it was enemy warriors. You heard the thunder of their ponies first, then their whooping.

      The enemy came on the village, fast, and they weren’t using coup sticks, they were using real whips, arrows, tomahawks, lances, clubs, one might have even had a pistol.
They were on us! Because I was there I began screaming and soon men came from their lodges, the alarm had been raised, men and their wives were making provision to melt into the prairie where the enemy was waiting.

     There were more of them riding now through the village, hurling lances almost at random, jumping off if they found someone to attack, stopping where they could to do whatever damage they could. A spear fell by my feet.

      I saw Spotted Dog’s mother beaten with a dogwood club by an enemy warrior. The eyes in his head went white and rolled up when she took a stone maize crusher and swung it with full force into his forehead, and he fell. To my left, his jaw clenched tight with anger, Bear Wolf, the strongest of the young man hunters of our village, had pulled one of the enemy off his horse, and was twisting his braids around in his left hand, a knife in his right. The enemy fell, again.

    On my right, I was lucky enough to look up just in time.

     He was riding right for me. It was an enemy old man. He had few teeth, but he had all his war and spirit decorations on, and he was heading straight my way, a lance in his hand. I could swear that I was unaware of aything other than cold stark paralysed fear.

     But he came on- and as the point of his lance came near, I picked up the spear lying on the ground, and when he came charging at me with his lance, mine was just long enough to get to him, bfore he could jab his into me. I stepped to the left as I punched its tip into his ribcage.

     I did not want to die. I did not want to kill. But he was enemy, and it was our village, and these were my people, and I took the lance and drove it straight deep into his chest. He looked at me with no sense of surprise, more an understanding- you are no longer the child. You are doing what I would have asked my own son to, if I were young and I were you. There was a glint of acceptance as well as respect as he fell, thick like a stone from the pony. He stared up from the dust, toward the stars.

    When the old man fell from his pony, I grabbed up the reins and jumped upon it. I rode to the side of the village where my parents had their tent, and brought them that pony, and tied it outside the tent. I went back to the body of the old man and took his necklaces. I did not want his scalp. What use would I have for it? I did not care to clutter my own lodge with this unwanted reminder, I had killed a man.

      Teardrop Star reappeared in the afternoon and I told him. He said I should be proud that I had done what was right. I did not feel it was right. The old man had lived his long life, and they were attacking us, but the look he gave me when he was dying made me feel that the entire war with the enemy- - was not really the way of the Wakan Tanka.But enemies are Indians too. And all men come through the Wakan Tanka and return there.

     I was too confused, I almost began to cry, though I could not and did not let Teardrop Star see.

     Later that evening when the village had a chance to repair the tents, patch whatever wounds there were- nobody on our side died, luckily- the elders all called a council. They called on me to tell my story. When I finished, the old chief who was even more respected than Bear Wolf handed me the pipe and told me to smoke with him, Bear Wolf, and the other big men and warriors. I sat with my eyes on my lap, and passed the pipe when it was offered, afte breathing in a breath and praying to White Buffalo Woman for the old enemy I had lain down.

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