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Leotie values her freedom and peaceful life with her tribe more than anything. However, the outlanders want more and more of their land. They are given the ultimatum to leave their home or die. Soon the Mahasi are going to war with an unpredictable enemy. Leotie wasn’t born to stay home and string beads. She’s a hunter and a warrior who gets a chance to defend her people, but what she doesn’t know is that a powerful shifter is watching her. He’s about to turn her world upside down.
Keme is a native young man who believes he’s a coward. He’s nothing like his father the Great War Chief. Everyone knows him as the one who ran from battle. Secretly, he trains to be a healer. He tries to warn his people that going to war with the outlanders will end in many deaths, but only a few will listen. He wants to make Leotie his life-bond, but with his reputation how can he ask her?
Leotie sewed bead after bead on a vest, making the outline of a white dove. The vest was to be a gift for Keme during their life-bonding ceremony. However, it currently looked more like a cloud. At twenty-three, she still didn’t want anything to do with women’s chores. She looked at the work of the other women seated in the circle in the middle of a wigwam. All of them had completed at least three vests – all with beautiful colors and detail. Leotie sighed in frustration and began to rip the beads out. Yet, even that was taking too long, so she tossed the vest aside.
“I can help if you want?” asked Enola, the junior healer and also in her early twenties.
Leotie respected Enola, and thought the way she left her thick hair free of any braids made her look even more beautiful. “Thanks, maybe later, if I can teach you how to use a bow.”
Enola looked up and smiled. “That could be fun. I’m sure it would be a good laugh too.”
Mother took the vest and tried to hand it back to her. “I know you want to go hunting, but we all have to be patient.”
Leotie brushed the vest aside and peeked out the entrance. Nobody was around on the bright day. The camp was too quiet “I sure hope the outlanders don’t retaliate.”
Mother started stringing beads for her. “All I know is, this helps me keep my mind off things.”
Mother worked skillfully and fast – a master at every womanly duty. The ideal type for a life-bond. At least, according to the men. Leotie wasn’t anything like her, but Mother always stood up for her, no matter what she wanted to do.
“Mom, don’t finish it for me. I have to do it…eventually.”
“Very well.” Mother set the vest aside.
“From what I’ve seen of Lieutenant Clawson, he isn’t going to be silent,” Izrah, the tribe’s holy woman, said, working the beads with her gnarled hands. She kept her gray hair medium length, parted in the middle and wavy along the sides of her cheeks. She had a kind looking face, despite deep wrinkles.
Leotie remembered Clawson from last year. He’d said he was a leader over a colonial militia. She couldn’t pronounce the words, and found it easier to think of it as the warriors of a tribe.
“Did Chapa even have permission to attack the outlanders?” Leotie asked.
“No, of course not.” Izrah continued, sewing beads at the same time.
Leotie felt a growing anger toward their newly-appointed junior war chief, Chapa. He was too young to take the position, but since his parents were killed by outlanders, Chief Takoda insisted they honor him by giving him a chance to take his father’s place. In only two weeks he had chased farmers off their land and attacked a wagon trying to pass through their territory.
“Why does the council let him get away with it?” Leotie asked.
Tala, a small woman a few years younger than Leotie, spoke up at the other end of the circle. “I overheard the chiefs talking. They don’t care since the settlers are in our territory.”
“Even so, Tala,” Leotie said, “Chapa thinks he can do whatever he wants.”
Izrah nodded. “Something must be done about him.”
She put one foot outside. “I’m going to work on my wigwam.”
Mother’s worry wrinkles around her eyes deepened. “Very well, but be careful.”
With a nod, Leotie went out, and decided to get Keme to help her. She went over to the group of wigwams for Keme’s family. He had a small dwelling not far from his parent’s larger one. She called for him. When no one answered, she looked inside and found only a rumpled blanket. The hook where his bow rested was empty. He went hunting without me? He knows better than that.
She kept silent so as not to get Keme into trouble, and worked her way over to the frame of her new wigwam. It had been sitting like this for days. Nobody really knew, but it was supposed to be her new home with Keme. She’d pictured having the bonding ceremony right next to it. That is, if Keme ever gets around to telling my father his intentions.
Instead, Keme wanted to wait and see how things would go with the outlanders before building anymore, because he thought they might have to move. Here they were again, letting the outlanders interfere with their lives. She saw no reason to wait, so worked on it herself. If it took one twig at a time, she would finish it.
As she worked over the next hour, the muggy air made her hot. Leotie sipped on a canteen and brushed an annoying fly away from her head. She couldn’t stop listening to every little sound. Every minute she didn’t hear anything was a relief, but then something crackled in the distance. She paused, listening hard. She wanted to forget it and returned to her work, but a minute later whinnies and the clopping of hooves came from the edge of the camp.
“The outlanders are coming!” shouted one of their men.
Leotie jumped up and hurried, with several others, to the edge of the camp. A group of soldiers on horses, twice the size of their ponies, rode up to their camp. About fifteen riders and two wagons loaded with soldiers carrying muskets had arrived.
The men of her tribe rushed over with their bows and arrows. The soldiers aimed their muskets. The two sides shouted back and forth. Leotie touched the knife on her belt, expecting a fight to break out. She looked around for Keme, but still didn’t see him anywhere.
In all the confusion, two-year-old Mia somehow got separated from her mother. She stumbled and fell, almost getting stepped on. Leotie scooped her up and looked around the crowd of people. She caught the eyes of her frantic mother, calling for her daughter. Leotie hurried over to her and gave her the child. “Go inside, go…”
The mother nodded, said thank you several times, and hurried off. Leotie joined the others gathering around, and ended up in the middle of the crowd. One of the soldiers pushed his horse forward, but didn’t bother to dismount. She recognized Lieutenant Jason Clawson from last year. He wore the same green coat and pointy little blue hat. His pale outlander skin had been tanned by the sun. Unlike some of his men, he had no beard, not even stubble, and his brown hair was short. He wore a belt with gadgets attached to it.
Matwau, her father and the tribe’s war chief, walked over to them and put his hands up before the crowd of angry natives. “Wait!”
A man who used to be a native stood among the soldiers. They called him Bobby. The older ones said he had been captured as a child, along with a small group of Nottoway natives. They’d become slaves for the outlanders about twenty years ago. They’d lived near her tribe, and their language was almost the same. Some were said to still be in town, working on farms and tending to horses. She wondered why they didn’t try to run away, and couldn’t imagine being under the command of anyone.
Bobby, who now wore the clothes of an outlander, stood to the side of Clawson and repeated Matwau’s words in English. His eyes had a blank look about them – as if the outlanders had drained the last bits of fighting spirit out of his soul.
Leotie knew that, like her, everyone from her tribe was staring at him in horror at what he had become. All the young men in her tribe wore only breech cloths and leggings on the hot day. Bobby looked strange in comparison. The looks of fear turned into murmurs and chuckles, flowing through the crowd as they made fun of his clothes and his outlander name. Clawson tried to speak in Mahasi, but it was terrible. He gave up and spoke in English. Leotie knew a few simple words, but it all sounded so choppy and awkward.
Bobby translated, “Lieutenant Clawson says that your people killed two of our men yesterday, and have been terrorizing the new farms.”
“And is it not true that this occurred in our territory?” Matwau said. “We had an agreement that this was our land. Then here you are clearing the forest and ruining the hunting.”
Clawson spoke right away, not needing Bobby to understand.
“What territory?” Bobby translated. “You were gone for three months.”
“Our tribe moves around. That does not mean you have the right to…”
As they talked two middle-aged women helped their aging chief, Takoda, out of his wigwam and over to the crowd. He was hunched over and walked slowly. Leotie was never sure the ninety-year-old chief ever really knew what was going on.
Someone let out a loud war cry. Everyone went silent. She recognized the voice – it was Chapa. He burst through the other end of the crowd. Black paint covered his forehead and around his eyes, with white lines running down his forehead to his cheeks. He wore a braid on top of his head with feathers stuck in it. In one hand he carried a knife, and in the other his bow.
“Well, look at you Bobby. You’re a disgrace.” Chapa spat on the ground at Bobby’s feet.
Bobby glanced at the ground, clearly not proud of himself. He stayed quiet and hunched. Leotie feared he had been beaten several times.
Chapa shook his fist in the air and glared at Bobby. “You tell him that we have lost some of our people to your hunters as well. You never keep your word; therefore we will not back down.”
Bobby shrugged. “The Lieutenant knows what you said.”
The soldiers pointed their muskets at Chapa. The men of the tribe raised their bows, ready to fire on them. A silence fell over both sides. Leotie held her breath, her heart racing.
“Wait!” Takoda strained his gruff voice as he came through the crowd. He turned to Clawson. “It is our tradition to go south in the winter. We gave you a lot of land and yet you keep coming further west. You destroy many ancient trees, spoil our river, and build on the resting place of our ancestors. Then you complain when we try to take what’s ours.”
Clawson spoke, waving his hands about.
Bobby translated, “Clawson says you were gone, and they didn’t know if you were coming back. It would be too much trouble to move the farmers now.”
“What kind of excuse is this?” Chapa shouted.
“We need to stay out of each other’s way,” Bobby translated. “Our leaders have decided they want you to move west of the river.”
Leotie clenched her fists, outraged at the suggestion of leaving her homeland. Everyone looked at Takoda, waiting for him to respond.
“We’re not moving!” Takoda said, his voice no longer low and raspy, but strong as if he was young again.
The Mahasi broke out in a cheer, raising their bows and axes up in the air. She cheered with them, agreeing that her people couldn’t give in to them anymore. They pointed their bows at Clawson’s men.
Clawson’s face hardened. He spoke a fast, choppy sentence.
Bobby translated, “Clawson says: I’m warning you, you may chase me away today, but there are many more soldiers who will come and force you to move. If you don’t want to suffer many deaths, listen to me and go. I’m giving you thirty days.”
“We don’t take orders from you!” Chapa shouted.
The crowd burst out whooping and shouting again. At last, they weren’t going to let the liars steal from them anymore.
Bobby spoke, “Why do you cheer? I have seen Clawson’s warriors. You will lose.”
The crowd went silent, and worry filled the eyes of many.
“Don’t listen to him,” Chapa blurted out. “He was probably told to say that. Let’s kill these liars now.”
About half of the tribe hesitantly raised their bows up again. Leotie hesitated too. She’d killed many a deer, but so far never another person. Chapa continued to urge them on, his face turning even a darker bronze, the veins on his neck bulging.
Clawson wiped his brow and grimaced at the crowd. He motioned for his men. They turned and rode off, not even worried about getting an arrow in the back. She found their confidence disturbing. Chapa went into a war dance, whooping and signaling for them to fire their bows, but nobody would do so. They would only take that command from Takoda, who remained still.
Chapa stopped and stared at Takoda, but he wasn’t going to complain to the chief in front of everyone. He waited until Clawson’s men were out of range. “Did you see that traitor, Bobby? We’re all going to look like him if this doesn’t stop.”
Everyone started shouting and talking in protest.
Takoda lifted a wrinkled hand, and everyone fell silent. “Our choice is to fight, or leave.”
Move again? How could they leave the Wasatch area? Different tribes lived to the west. Soon they would be in Iroquoian territory, and they didn’t need problems with them again.
Chapa raised his bow in the air. “The Great Spirit has always helped us against our enemies. We Mahasi have never been defeated.”
Leotie cheered with the others. Perhaps Chapa was right. It was about time they stopped putting up with the outlander nonsense.
“Excuse me,” Anti said. “Excuse me!”
Everyone turned. Antihaya, the tribe’s holy man, stood next to his life-bond Izrah. The top of his head was covered in gray hair, which flowed down, going from gray to black as it did so, past his shoulders. He wore large earrings with red, blue, and yellow spiral rings. The gentle man always let everyone call him Anti. Enola and her parents stood nearest to him.
Anti strained to raise his old voice. “Chapa, I know of your suffering, but the Great Spirit is a God of healing, not of war. We won those wars because we were strong. Clawson did not appear to be lying. Don’t be too sure of another victory.”
Most of the chiefs and elders nodded in respect to his opinion.
Chapa wrinkled his nose and waved his hand. “They have clumsy weapons that make a lot of noise. Did moving work last time? No, it will never work.”
Almost everyone cheered, some raising their bows up, eager to defend their land.
“Come with me now. It’s not too late to go after them.” Chapa let out a war cry.
Several men looked between Chapa and Takoda as if they hoped Takoda would give them permission.
“No!” Keme shouted, standing on a boulder and out of breath. His black hair was tied into a ponytail and his bronze chest was damp with sweat. She guessed he’d run a good distance to reach the camp.
“Not only do they have better weapons,” Keme said, “Did you not notice the big horses? I suspect they have hundreds of them. Our only choice is to leave, and learn their ways so we can reclaim our land some other day.”
“Keme!” Paytah, his father shouted. He stepped away from the crowd, wearing his usual white poncho. “I’ve told you before not to speak on this matter. Learning their ways is the path to destroying our people.”
“I can’t be silent on this matter,” Keme said.
“What would you have us do?” Chapa asked, glaring at Keme. “Hand over our land and run away like cowards?” He looked Keme up and down and smirked. “Oh wait, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”
Leotie winced. She could’ve predicted Chapa would bring that up.
Keme clenched his fists and charged through the crowd for Chapa, but was grabbed by several men. The two tried to reach each other, kicking and shouting, but everyone pulled them apart. Chapa walked away, smirking and laughing at Keme.
“Enough!” Leotie’s father, Matwau, raised his voice. “We must be united as a people if we are to save our land.” He motioned for the council members to go into their wigwam.
As the crowd broke up, Keme stood there, staring and frowning. Leotie started toward him, but he didn’t notice her and marched off into the woods.
Thanks for reading.
On sale for a limited time. Amazon Kindle
On sale for a limited time. Amazon Kindle
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