Authors: Frank Christopher Busch
“For the love of life,” he said as he took the pouch. “I accept this great responsibility.”
ainted Turtle Man made his way back to the Bear Lodge to begin preparations for the sweat lodge, his first since his wife's return to the spirit world. So many things needed doing before the ceremony could happen, and everyone would be depending on him to remember it all. She used to make sure everything was ready, so all he had to do was conduct the ceremony. How would he manage this task without her?
Painted Turtle Man arrived at the Bear lodge. He could hear the Bear clan women fussing over the baby from outside. Now that he was home, he only wished to be alone.
He headed for the forest. As he walked, a gust of wind caught him off guard, causing a shiver to ripple through his old bones. He headed for the one place he knew she would be with him: the spot where they had spent many evenings, sitting on a rock, watching the sunset. They usually only went there in the summer months, but today he was desperate.
need me now, but I don't know if I am ready.” He spoke as he walked. “I wish you were here. I was ready to leave this life until
sent me a dream about a Grey-Eyed boy. Now I feel I must stay here a while longer. I don't know why this boy has been sent to us and I don't know what part I will have in his journey. I imagine you must have had something to do with it. Who else would give me such a task at my age?”
He arrived at their place to find the rock covered in snow. Except for the distant croak of a raven, all was quiet. In his youth, he had been badly wounded. She had nursed him back to health. Because of his injuries, he couldn't offer her much. At the time he did not know whether he would ever walk again, much less hunt. For a time, he was not sure he wanted to go on living. She never gave up on him though, when so many others had dismissed his usefulness.
He worked hard to heal and worked harder to walk again. All that mattered was for him to win her affection and for her to choose him as her husband. He carried his flute to her lodge and played beautiful music for her ears only. He helped her carry water, as best he could, anyway. When he began to learn the secrets of the plant world, he collected the medicines she needed to heal the
. Somehow, after he had forgotten why he had started helping her in the first place, she chose him. All he wanted to do after that was be with her. It didn't matter to him if people thought of him only as her helper. He knew they were partners in all things and that was all he cared about.
are so happy the Grey-Eyed child has been born. I am, too, but what does it mean? Creator sends a blessing only when we are most in need. What does the future hold for
? Are we in danger from the Red-Eye?”
The wind whistled louder and the icy fingers of Old Man Winter reached for him. It would be best not to wander too far. He could not shut these thoughts out of his head or push away the dull ache in the pit of his chest. Of the
only the matriarchs and a few others had witnessed the devastation the Red-Eye had brought upon
. The horror was unforgettable. Of course, he thought, life must go on.
The Bear clan had been kind to him, taking him in after his wife passed. How many times had he considered taking the long walk in the dead of winter to relieve the burden they carried? He wasn't afraid of death, but his wife would not approve. She always said, “Creator gives us our life and only Creator can decide when to take it back.” Maybe she was right. He certainly didn't want for her to be ashamed of him when next they met.
“I am trying to make you proud,” he called. “Though I am afraid, I try to serve the
as best as I can. I know you are watching me, but I just want to be with you again. I don't know what I am supposed to do hereâ¦”
“Uncle?” came a young man's voice. Painted Turtle Man turned to see a warrior of seventeen or eighteen summers.
“Huh?” responded the old man wiping his eyes.
“Who were you talking to?”
! I am sorry I disturbed you. I will find you later.” The young man turned to leave.
“It's all right, I'll have plenty of time to talk to her when I see her next. What did you need?”
“Oh, yes, I wanted toâ¦” the young man stuttered. “I mean, if you need someone like meâ¦if you haven't chosen anyone yet. Have you chosen anyone?”
“I am not sure what you are saying,” said Painted Turtle Man. “You want to ask me for something?”
The young man took a deep breath.
“Yes,” he began. “The Circle of Clan Mothers passed tobacco for you to run the sweat.”
“I want to be your helper and learn the secrets of the plant world.”
“I am a hard worker. I can collect wood, get water. I can do whatever is needed. I just want to learn.”
“No one has ever asked to be my helper beforeâ¦”
“Really?” said the young man, feigning surprise. “There were three other warriors at the Bear lodge who were going to ask you. When we were told you must have gone to begin the preparations, we went looking for you. I guess I found you first.”
“There are others?”
, Uncle. But none of them is as hard working as I am. My mother would tell you that I have always helped out around the lodge, even when I was just a boyâ¦”
“I am afraid you are mistaken, I have only been asked to conduct a naming sweat. I am sure there are others who would be able to teach you what you want to know. I'm just an old man preparing to return to the Great Mystery.”
“That is not what the people are saying. They say you knew the Grey-Eye was going to be born. They say you are touched by
say a great many things, but not all of it is true. Yesterday they laughed at me and today they think I am blessed. Who knows what they will say about me tomorrow.”
The young man looked down at his feet. He was determined, but didn't know what to say to change the old man's mind.
“What is your name, my boy?” asked Painted Turtle Man.
“I am called Soaring Spear Man of the Deer clan. I earned my warrior name last spring.”
“Well, Soaring Spear Man of the Deer clan,” said Painted Turtle Man. “Why do you want to become my helper and learn the secrets of the plant world?”
“Hmm,” he pondered. “I hadn't really thought about it.”
“What is the first thing that comes to mind?”
“I guess I want to learn things that will make me more useful to the village.”
“That is a good reason.” Painted Turtle Man examined the young man for a time. “Is there anything else?”
“Well, Uncle,” said Soaring Spear Man. “I am a little embarrassed to say.”
“If you expect me to teach you my secrets, you will have to tell me some of yours.”
“And anything said between us,” added Painted Turtle Man, “will stay between us.”
“Well, I don't think any of the women are interested in me. I thought if I learned something that other warriors don't know, one of the women might want to choose me for a husband.”
“That's nothing to be embarrassed about. After forty-four winters together, I still don't know why my wife chose me. But I am glad she did. You are wise to seek out opportunities to improve yourself. That in itself is a quality women admire.”
“I would be grateful for any knowledge you could share with me in this matter.”
“I am afraid that is the extent of my knowledge,” laughed Painted Turtle Man. “But there are many other things I could teach you.”
“So, I can be your helper?”
, for as long as you feel you are learning. When you have learned from me all you need, you will move on and learn new things. One day, you might be able to come teach me something about the plant world that I did not know. That is the way wisdom is gained, in first recognizing that it can come from anywhere.”
“Now let's go find the others. There is much work to be done.”
As they began their journey back to the village, Painted Turtle Man said a silent prayer of thanks. Having a young person to help and to teach would make his tasks much less difficult. Perhaps there was more for him to do in
our days passed and the people of
went about their preparations for the ceremony. The few young men of the Turtle clan offered to help the Deer clan collect wood, while the Wolf clan warriors prepared the site for the sweat lodge, clearing away the snow covering it. The Crane clan warriors came to assist, practicing their songs as they worked.
This is the way of the
: they saw what needed doing and they did it. To be thought of as lazy was a great dishonour, so everyone tried to keep busy in some way. As sponsors of the ceremony, the Eagle clan would prepare a feast for the people and present gifts to all who helped. In being sponsored by the wealthiest clan and with two Grey Eyes in attendance, the ceremony promised to be a good one.
On the third day of preparation, Blue Elk Man led a small group of Marten clan warriors out in search of grandfather rocks. He was not strictly required, but there was little for Blue Elk Man to do at the Bear lodge and he was eager to stretch his legs after being healed of his injury. The five men decided to head southwest along the river to a spot where round rocks had always been found.
“I had hoped to be an uncle,” said Coming Thunder, Blue Elk Man's youngest brother. “I wasn't expecting my nephew to be a Grey-Eye.”
,” said one of the others, pulling his toboggan over a stump. “I didn't think you had it in you.” The men laughed.
“It is a great blessing,” said Blue Elk Man. “It is
who deserves the credit.”
“Don't be so modest. You've done us proud,” continued Coming Thunder. “Now my wife wants a Grey-Eye too. It's been a good thing for me.”
“I hope you aren't going to get her hopes up,” said Blue Elk Man.
“About the baby, or does he mean the other thing?” teased one warrior to another. They shot a look back at Coming Thunder, who was last in the group.
“Don't worry about that,” said Coming Thunder. “I'm a Marten.”
No one laughed. Blue Elk Man had stopped in his tracks, as did the others.
“Come on,” said Coming Thunder, pulling up alongside his brother. “Where is the prideâ”
Blue Elk Man put his arm out, stopping him.
The men followed Blue Elk Man's gaze. Up. In all of their combined experience as scouts, none had ever seen anything like it. Strung high across two trees and suspended by leather ropes was an owl. The bird's shell of a body wavered in the wind: the eyes and tail feathers had been removed. The owl looked alive, frozen in place mid-glide, and yet without its eyes it seemed hollow, soulless. Blue Elk Man tried to read the message but failed. All he knew was that a dark purpose was at work here. The Marten warriors scanned the area, but saw no tracks or smoke from a camp.
Satisfied there was no other human presence, Blue Elk Man spoke. “Go get Painted Turtle Man.”
Coming Thunder took off for the village.
“What did you find?” asked Painted Turtle Man as he trudged through the snow, assisted by the young warrior.
“I don't know how to describe it. It is an owlâ¦was an owlâ¦but the eyes are missing and it is tied up in the air,” answered Coming Thunder. “You must see it.”
The waiting Marten clan warriors parted for Painted Turtle Man as he approached. At first, he noticed nothing unusualâonly the panic in the warriors' eyes. The Marten clan had a reputation for being serious and calm, so Painted Turtle Man did not take their agitation lightly. He looked to Blue Elk Man, who indicated the trees above with his lips.
Painted Turtle Man looked up and the colour left his face. He felt a dull ache creep into his old war wounds as he absorbed the scene. A twinge of anger grew behind his eyes. He did not speak.
“Who would do such a thing to Grandmother Owl, Uncle?” asked Blue Elk Man. “Is this bad medicine?”
“There are few who would dare harm one of Creator's messengersâ¦” mumbled Painted Turtle Man. What did it mean, he wondered. Would the naming ceremony have to be cancelled? Was the village in danger? Then clearly, he said: “This is the work of the Red-Eyes.”
The Marten clan warriors drew knives, spears, and bows and quickly formed a circle around the old man. They scanned the forest again for any sign of the enemy, hands clenched tightly on their weapons, ready to fight to the death if necessary.
Painted Turtle Man closed his eyes and raised his face to the sky. Concentrating, he extended his senses far beyond what the eyes could see and the ears could hear. Coming Thunder began to sing a war song, welcoming death. Like them all, he was prepared to lay down his life for the
“They are no longer here,” Painted Turtle Man said. “We will cut Grandmother Owl down and show the proper respect. When we return, you warriors are not to say anything. I will inform the clan mothers quietly. We do not want to start a panic or create fear.”
“What of the grandfather rocks?” asked Blue Elk Man.
Painted Turtle Man paused. He had forgotten their purpose in coming to this place. The enemy had already intruded on what should have been a routine activity. Was this to be the extent of their disruption?
,” he answered. “A child is getting his name and we will not allow the Red-Eyes to upset the harmony of the
The warriors lowered their guard and did as instructed. They buried the owl with tobacco and sage. Painted Turtle man spoke prayers and gave apologies on behalf of all
, the Red-Eyes especially.