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Authors: Madeline Baker

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BOOK: The Angel and the Outlaw
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Brandy learned that, for most of the year, the Lakota set up their lodges in any order they pleased, but here, in the summer Sun Dance camp, the lodges were set up in a large circle, with tipi locations determined by family relationships.

The major part of the summer would be given over to the preparation and carrying out of ceremonial affairs. Summer was the season of celebration, a time for vision seeking, for the Sun Dance festival, for female virtue feasts and honor dances.

Brandy stood outside her lodge, feeling immensely satisfied with herself. She had set up the lodge without any help, and done a good job, if she did say so herself. True, it had taken her longer to set up her lodge than most of the other women, but then, she’d had much less practice. In time, she would get better…

She frowned at the thought. In time. How much time did J.T. have left? When his time was up, would he just disappear?

And what would she do when he was gone? How would she find her way back home?

The joy she had felt earlier vanished like shadows running before the rain. What if she never got home again? What if J.T. disappeared and she was left here, alone, with the Lakota? She knew they would welcome her, but would she want to stay with the Indians, knowing that the Battle of the Little Big Horn would take place the following summer? The Indians would win that battle and consider it a great victory, but Custer’s defeat would signal the final end to the freedom the Indians now knew.

Heavy-hearted, she stepped into the lodge. It was hers. If she wished, she could toss J.T. out lock, stock and barrel, for a Lakota man owned little save his clothing and weapons. The lodge, and everything it contained, belonged to the woman.

But she didn’t want to toss him out. She wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, loving him, bearing his children. A child… She pressed her hand over her stomach. A boy, with J.T.’s eyes…

It occurred to her suddenly that she hadn’t seen him for the better part of two hours. Where was he, anyway?

Frowning, she straightened the bed, fussed with the few pots and pans she had acquired. If he didn’t hunt them up something for dinner soon, they’d go to bed hungry.

The sound of his footsteps sent a shiver of anticipation skittering along her spine. Smiling, she whirled around to meet him, felt her heart speed up as he took her in his arms and hugged her tight.

“Where’ve you been?” she asked.

“With Wicasa Tankala.”

“Oh. Why?”

J.T. locked his hands together at her back, then drew away a little so he could see her face. “I’ve missed out on a lot by not being raised here,” he said slowly. “I want to try to become a warrior.”

“You’re already a warrior.”

J.T. grinned wryly. “I’m glad you think so, but I want to be a Lakota warrior in the true sense of the word.”

“What do you mean?”

“I want to seek a vision before the Sun Dance.”

“I think that’s wonderful,” Brandy exclaimed softly. “My father did the same thing before he married my mother.”

“Was he successful?”

“From what my mother says, it made a new man out of him. My dad was always a great guy, but he tended to drink a little too much. After his vision, he never drank again.”

J.T. grunted softly. “If I’m successful, I want to take part in the Sun Dance.”

“Oh.”

“You don’t sound very happy about it.”

“I am, it’s just that…” How to explain it to him? She knew how important the Sun Dance was to the Lakota, and yet she dreaded the thought of J.T. being pierced.

She had never attended a Sun Dance festival, or at least she didn’t remember ever seeing one on the reservation when she was growing up. Of course, they had moved away when she was ten, and she’d forgotten many of the customs that had once been part of their daily life. Now, she wondered if it was the fact that she was half-white that made it hard for her to fully understand the Sun Dance, or
acki’cirua
, as the Crow called it. Maybe it was because she was a woman of the twentieth century that caused her to view the Sun Dance with something akin to revulsion.

She knew little of the actual ritual of either tribe.

Her mother had once told her that the Crow Sun Dance was a prayer for vengeance and that a man, overcome with sorrow at the death of a kinsman, considered the
acki’cirua
the best mean of getting a vision by which he might revenge himself upon the offending person or tribe.

“You don’t think I should take part, do you?” J.T. asked.

“You should do whatever you think is right.”

“I know it’s right.” He tapped his chest, over his heart. “In here.” He drew her up against him, his hands sliding up and down her spine. “I accompanied Wicasa Tankala in a sweat today.”

“You did!”

“Yeah. I don’t know how to explain it to you, how it made me feel. I guess clean is the best word to describe it. I came out of there feeling clean. Sort of like I’d been reborn.”

J.T. frowned. It was difficult to define things that he, himself, didn’t quite understand. Wicasa Tankala had explained that the Lakota believed that a man could not succeed without Power, and that that Power came from a force that emanated from the supernatural. The hawk, the eagle, the elk, the buffalo, each possessed a specific power; each represented a Lakota spiritual being. Power came to man through these creatures. In order to be able to communicate with one of these spiritual beings, a man must be pure in body and spirit, a condition that could only be obtained through a sweat.

“What was it like?” Brandy asked.

J.T. shook his head. “It was… I don’t know, kind of mystical. We stripped off our clothes before we went inside. It was dark and quiet inside the lodge.”

Heated stones had been placed in a
iniowaspe
, a small pit, in the center of the lodge. The earth from the pit made a small mound called
hanbelachia
, the vision hill. Tiny bundles of tobacco tied in red cloth had been placed as an offering on the hill. A sacred pipe had also been placed on the hill, its stem facing east.

“We sat in silence for a time, and then one of Wicasa Tankala’s grandsons passed four heated rocks inside. They were placed in the pit, and then Wicasa Tankala took up the pipe. He smoked it, then passed it to me.

“After that, he poured cold water over the hot stones and a great cloud of steam filled the lodge. He sang quietly while he did this. We smoked the pipe four times; he sprinkled water on the rocks four times. He sang four songs four times.”

Four was a sacred number to the Lakota. There were four seasons in a year, four quarters to the moon, four directions to the earth.

“Did you have a vision?”

“Not exactly.”

“Not exactly? What does that mean?”

“I didn’t see anything, and yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that Gideon was there, inside the lodge with us. I can’t explain it. Anyway, we sat there until I thought I’d smother from the steam and the heat.” J.T. shook his head. “Funny thing is, when it was over, there were tiny hoof marks on the vision hill.”

“Hoof marks?”

“Yeah. It seems the old man’s spirit guide is an elk.”

Brandy shivered in spite of herself. She had heard of such things happening in the old days, among her own people, but she had never truly believed in such manifestations.

“Anyway, tomorrow I’m going ‘crying after a vision’ as Wicasa Tankala calls it.” J.T. took Brandy’s hand in his. “Keep an eye on Tasina Luta for me.”

“I will, but…” She tightened her arms around him. “I’ll miss you.”

He’d be gone at least four days, she thought. Less, if a vision came to him sooner, but no longer than four days.

She had a feeling it would be a long four days for both of them.

Chapter Seventeen

 

J.T. stood atop a pine-covered hill, his face turned toward the east.

Clad in nothing save a clout and moccasins, he offered a pinch of tobacco to the earth and the sky, to the four directions.

Raising his arms, he gazed at the fading colors of the sunrise. Never, he thought, never in all his life had he felt so alone.

Three days had passed.

Three days of fasting and fervent prayer.

Three nights of looking up at the stars and wondering…wondering if the spirits were laughing at him. Who was he, to expect a vision? He was no warrior. He had never done a decent or honorable thing in his whole miserable life.

Slowly, he lowered his arms, then sat down on the gray wool blanket his grandmother had given him. It was his only luxury. He sat on it by day, and wrapped himself in its warmth at night.

He watched the sun take command of the sky, boldly painting the broad sky-blue canvas with vivid strokes of crimson and gold. He felt the first faint rays on his face, imagined that he could feel the colors of the sunrise on his skin, the crimson’s fire, the gold’s more subtle warmth.

Staring up at the sun, he forgot the pangs of hunger that clawed at his belly, forgot the thirst that parched his throat. As though mesmerized, he stared at the sun until he saw nothing but her bright golden light.

And out of that light, he heard a voice speaking his name. “Tokala.”

“I am here.”

“Your mother has named you well.”

“My mother?”


Hin
. On the day of your birth, Sisoka called upon the spirits, and I was chosen to be your guide.”

“Who are you?”

“Look in your heart, my brother, and you will see me.”

For a moment, J.T. closed his eyes. When he opened them again, a fox stood before him, bathed in the sun’s golden rays so that its magnificent red coat seemed to be shimmering with iridescent fire.

“I have waited long for you to seek me,” the fox said, a note of reproach echoing in its voice.

“I could not find my way, until now.”

“It is well that you have found the right path at last. The True Path. The Life Path. Do not stray from it again,” the fox warned, turning away.

“Wait!” J.T. called, but it was too late. The fox was gone, swallowed up by the sun.

He sat there for a long while, his thoughts turned inward. His mother had prayed for him the day he was born. The knowledge warmed him somehow, made him feel closer to her, closer to the Lakota. All these years, he had thought himself alone when he hadn’t been alone at all. All he’d had to do was ask for help, and it would have been there.

 

It was late afternoon when he returned to the village. The camp looked the same, yet different, and he knew he was seeing it through new eyes, through Lakota eyes. His lodge, its top smoke-blackened, stood with the door flap open to welcome him home. He nodded at the people he passed—women tanning hides, men making arrows, children at play. He drew in a deep breath, inhaling the scent of smoke and sage and sun-warmed earth. The sky seemed bluer, the grass more green, the earth more solid under his feet.

It wasn’t just his perceptions that had changed. He had changed. He felt a new sense of who and what he was.

His steps slowed as Brandy stepped out of their lodge. She paused when she saw him and for a long moment, their gazes met and held. And then she was running to him, a smile on her lips, her arms outstretched.

He caught her to him and hugged her tight. Three days without her. It seemed a lifetime. She melted into his arms, filling his senses. Hair like black silk. Skin like smooth satin. He took a deep breath, inhaling the warm womanly scent that was Brandy’s and Brandy’s alone.

“I missed you,” he said, his voice husky. The thought startled him. He had never had cause to miss anyone in his life.

“I missed you, too,” Brandy replied. She took his hand and they went into the lodge and closed the door flap. “Did you…were you successful?”

J.T. nodded.

“Tell me,” she said eagerly. “Tell me everything.”

“Later.” He drew back the furs on their bed, unfastened his breechclout.

A slow smile curved Brandy’s lips as she began to undress, everything else forgotten, burned away by the sight of J.T.. He stood near the center of the lodge, light from the smoke hole pooling around him. His skin was the color of dark bronze; his hair, longer now than when she had first met him, fell past his shoulders. Her gaze moved over him, noting each line of masculine perfection, from his broad shoulders and flat stomach to his long, hair-roughened legs. The sight of him, tall and strong and well-muscled, made her insides quiver with longing.

Cheeks flushed, heart pounding, she stepped out of her tunic and into his arms.

J.T. cradled Brandy against him, awash with contentment as he related what had happened during his vision quest.

“I never really thought I’d see anything,” J.T. admitted. “Sometimes, late at night, when we were alone, my mother would talk about her life. She’d tell me about visions and spirit guides.” J.T. shrugged. “I guess, deep down, I always thought she was making it all up. You know, like fairy tales.”

“Do you still intend to take part in the Sun Dance?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve never seen one, but it sounds so…I don’t know, barbaric, I guess.”

She watched J.T., hoping he would understand. She had always been proud of her Crow heritage, proud of the customs her mother had taught her, but she had always viewed the Sun Dance with mixed emotions.

“I’m a little nervous about it,” J.T. admitted.

In truth, he was more than a little nervous. He’d been shot. He’d been knifed, but the thought of standing still and letting someone deliberately slit his flesh and insert wooden skewers in the muscle over his breast filled him with trepidation. Would he be able to withstand the pain, or would he cry out like a child, thereby shaming himself in front of his mother’s people, in front of Wicasa Tankala? In front of Brandy?

Still, it never occurred to him to change his mind. It was something he wanted to do, needed to do.

* * * * *

The Sun Dance ceremony lasted twelve days. The Lakota held it every year during the Moon of Ripening Chokecherries. The first four days were festive days. During this time, all of the People came together, and the campsite was prepared.

The young women went looking for spears of grama grass bearing four heads. Such a find was considered fortunate, an omen that presaged good luck in love.

Wicasa Tankala went through the camp, looking for worthy individuals to take part in the ceremony. Tatanka Ohilika was chosen to be the symbolic Hunter, Tatanka Sapa was appointed to be a Singer, two warriors J.T. didn’t know were selected as Digger. Several virtuous women were chosen to chop the sacred cottonwood tree that would serve as the Sun Dance pole. Chaste women were chosen to attend the dancers.

J.T. watched it all with a sense of awe. There was a strong sense of unity, of oneness, within the camp as old friendships were renewed. The unmarried men and women slid curious gazes at each other. Mothers kept a wary eye on their daughters.

With each passing day, J.T.’s nervousness intensified. He listened to some of the old men talk about the piercing, about the pain, and wondered if he had the inner strength to endure the pain. The thought of crying out, of showing cowardice in the face of these people, filled him with ever-growing anxiety.

Late one night, he left the lodge and wandered down to the river. Hunkering down on his heels, he stared into the dark water. He had never been much of a praying man. Before coming here, he could remember praying only once in his life, and that had been at his mother’s bedside just before she died. Since then, he had relied on his own strength.

“Help me,
Wakan Tanka
,” he whispered. “Don’t let me bring shame to myself, or my mother.”

Have faith, J.T.. Faith in yourself. Faith in what you believe…

J.T. glanced up, expecting to see his guardian angel. Instead he saw his spirit guide standing across the river, his thick red coat shining like a living flame.

“Have faith, Tokala,” the fox said, his voice sounding remarkably like Gideon’s. “Have faith.”

A swish of his tail, and the fox was gone.

On the morning of the fifth day, J.T. held Brandy in his arms for a long while. It was time for him to go to the special lodge that had been prepared for those who were to take part in the Sun Dance ceremony. He held her close, drawing on her love to give him courage and strength.

“Brandy, I…” His gaze slid away from hers. “Say a prayer for me, will you?”

Brandy nodded, her throat suddenly thick with the need to cry. “You can count on it.”

He kissed her one last time, then left the lodge without looking back.

Brandy stood at the doorway, tears rolling down her cheeks as she watched him walk away. It didn’t seem possible that she could love him so much. In the last few weeks, every thought, every dream, had been for J.T.. She wondered what kind of instruction he would receive. How did one prepare himself to be pierced? How would he endure the pain? How would she?

She spent much of the next four days with Tasina Luta, who told her that Wicasa Tankala had been chosen as the shaman who would be responsible for the overall supervision of the dancers and their instruction. It was a great honor.

Tasina Luta spoke of how her own husband had taken part in the Sun Dance, how proud she had been of her young warrior as he danced. No one saw him as a
wasichu
after that, she said, not even her parents, who had not wanted her to marry a white man.

The last four days were Holy Days. On the first day, the ceremonial camp was formally established. A large circular dance arbor made of poles was built in the center of the camp. The outer circle of the arbor was covered with leafy boughs to provide shade for those who would assist the dancers; the inside circle was left uncovered.

The sacred lodge, where the dancers would receive their final instruction, was rebuilt of all new materials.

While the new sacred lodge was being constructed, Tatanka Ohilika went looking for the forked cottonwood tree which would be used as the Sun Dance pole. The tree was considered the enemy, and Tatanka Ohilika was the Hunter. When a suitable tree was found, the message was relayed to Wicasa Tankala. That night there was a Buffalo Dance, which included a processional to propitiating the Buffalo and the Whirlwind, the patron spirits of the household and lovemaking. A Buffalo Dreamer supervised the events. He danced the Buffalo Dance and blessed the feast that followed.

The second Holy Day was devoted to the capture of the enemy, but first the camp had to be cleansed of evil spirits by Wicasa Tankala and the other medicine men. When that was done, the women chosen to capture the tree went to look for the enemy. They made three attempts, each time reporting that the enemy had not been found. On the fourth try, they found the tree, which had previously been marked with red paint by Tatanka Ohilika.

The women surrounded the tree and bound it with thongs. The capture was then reported to the camp amid much rejoicing. Brandy watched it all, amazed that she was actually there, participating in an event that had taken place over a hundred years ago. She didn’t understand most of what went on, but she joined the procession as it made its way toward the tree. Halfway between the camp and the tree, they came to a stream of water. The procession paused here while Wicasa Tankala cleaned the water of evil spirits.

When they reached the tree, four warriors symbolically counted coup on the cottonwood, thereby subduing its spirit essence. Children who were to have their ears pierced were honored at this time, and then Wicasa Tankala ordered the tree to be killed and each woman chosen took a turn at chopping the tree so that all who had been selected had a chance. When the tree was ready to fall, the woman honored to fell the enemy struck the final blows.

The pole was peeled to just below the fork. Women gathered the twigs as protection against evil spirits. Then several young men lifted the pole with carrying sticks, for the sacred tree was not to be touched except by the shaman or by those who had previously danced the Sun Dance.

When the pole arrived at the camp, it was painted, red on the west side, blue on the north, green on the east, and yellow on the south. A black rawhide figure of Iya and Gnaske, each bearing exaggerated genitalia, were attached to the fork of the tree. A bundle of sixteen cherry sticks enclosing an offering of tobacco, an arrow for buffalo-killings, and a picket pin for holding stolen horses were also tied to the fork. The pole was raised in four stages, four being a sacred number, and then dropped into the sacred hole.

Brandy listened carefully as Tasina Luta explained things to her, grateful that J.T.’s grandmother spoke English so that she could help her try to understand what was going on.

Later, the warriors danced the war dance, shooting arrows at the evil gods suspended in the fork of the tree, until they fell to the ground and were trampled by the dancers.

The end of the day was given over to final preparation of the dance arbor. Rawhide ropes were attached to the hallowed pole from which the dancers would be suspended. Brandy stood on the outside of the arbor, staring at the ropes, trying to imagine J.T. dancing there, his chest red with blood as he strained against the tether that bound him to the pole.

BOOK: The Angel and the Outlaw
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