The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
The Minnesota Wilderness August 1824
The evening shadows were long. The sky was awash with a crimson blush as the sun faded on the horizon, a mellow sighing of turtle doves breaking the cool, deep silence.
Riding in a canter ahead of a slow procession of many travois being dragged behind horses and dogs, Echohawk saw a frightened buck on the run, the white rosette of its rump seeming to hang for the smallest fraction of time at the top of each frantic bound, like a succession of sunbursts against the darkening forest.
Then Echohawk gazed down at the river at his one side, admiring the reflection of the green foliage of the maple, birch, and aspen trees that lined the riverbank, disturbed only by silver-scaled fish that now and then came to the surface with a sudden flip that started circles of ripples.
A deep, throaty cough, one that was filled with pain, drew Echohawk from his silent reverie. Echohawk jerked his head around, and rage filled his dark, fathomless eyes as he gazed down at his father, Chief Gray Elk, who lay on a travois behind Blaze, Echohawk's prized rust-colored stallion. Echohawk's father's pride had been stripped from him, as well as his health, by a vile white man the whites of whose eyes were
, yellow, the color of a coward's.
Echohawk's gaze moved beyond his father to the many other travois. Some transported bundles of blankets, parfleches of dried meat, and those who were too elderly to ride or walk.
Others carried the wounded from a recent raid on their village, a village they had chosen to leave behindâa place of sadness and many deaths.
Even to let himself conjure up memories of the man he now called Yellow Eyes sent spirals of hate throughout Echohawk. Because of him and his Sioux friends, led by the renegade White Wolf, many proud Chippewa had died, Echohawk's wife and unborn child among them, his father among the wounded. Because of Yellow Eyes and White Wolf, the Chippewa had been uprooted and a new place of peace and prosperity was now being sought.
Echohawk's eyes narrowed when he recalled another raid on his father's people twelve winters ago, when Echohawk had been a young brave of eighteen winters. His people had suffered many losses at the hand of those vile white men that day. And then, as now, the conflict had caused his band of people to move elsewhere, never wanting to stay where there had been so many deaths . . . so much blood spilled.
But Echohawk was proud to know that his chieftain father had wounded the white leader
day. Surely the man even now hobbled around on only one leg!
Echohawk tightened his reins and brought his horse to a halt. He turned to his people and thrust a fist into the air. “
! Stay!” he shouted, the responsibilities of his father's people his own until his father was able to perform in the capacity of chief again. “We shall rest for a while, then resume our journey!”
Echohawk sat for a moment longer in his saddle, observing his people. He could see relief in their eyes over being allowed to rest, and realized only now how hard he had been driving them to get them to their planned destination.
But the fate of his people lay in
hands, and he realized the importance of getting them settled in a village soon, and into a daily routine. When the snows began coloring the ground and trees in cloaks of white, many deaths would come to those who were not prepared.
Dismounting, his brief breechclout lifting in the breeze, his moccasined feet making scarcely a sound on the crushed leaves beneath them, Echohawk went to his father and knelt down beside him, resting himself on his haunches. “How are you,
, Father?” he asked, gently rearranging the bear pelts around his father's slight form. His heart ached with knowing how it used to be before the vicious raid. His father had been muscled and strong. Vital. All of this had been robbed from him at the hands of Yellow Eyes and White Wolf, and someday, somehow, the evil men would pay. . . .
, I am fine,” Chief Gray Elk said, his voice weak. With squinting eyes he looked past Echohawk at the loveliness of the surroundings, feeling serenity deep in the core of his being.
He turned his gaze back to Echohawk, a smile fluttering on his thin bluish lips. “Soon we shall be there, my son,” he said, wheezing with each word. “Do you not see it? Do you not feel it? This is a place of peace. A place of plenty. Surely we are near Chief Silver Wing's village. Surely we are also near Colonel Snelling's great fort, where Indians come and go in peace. Ah, my son, they say there is much good trading at Fort Snelling. We have been wrong not to move our people closer before now.” He coughed and paled. “It is best that we are here, my son. It is best.”
, yes, and we will soon be making camp,” Echohawk said, nodding. “Our scouts have brought us to the Rum River. It is the same river that flows past Chief Silver Wing's village. It is this same river that flows into the great Mississippi River that flows past Fort Snelling.” He nodded again. “
, soon we will be there,
Gray Elk slipped a hand from beneath the pelts and clasped onto one of Echohawk's, in his eyes a gleam of hope. “My son, Chief Silver Wing and I have been friends since our youth, when, side by side, we fought the Sioux for territorial rights,” he said, sucking in a wild gulp of air, then continuing to speak. “It will be good to see him again.”
Gray Elk's grip tightened on Echohawk's hand. “When Chief Silver Wing last came to me and we shared in a smoke and talk, he spoke of the abundance of wild rice plants that bend heavy with rice in the countless lakes and marshes near his village, and skies that are alive with waterfowl,” he continued softly. “Soon we share all of this with Chief Silver Wing and his people. Soon you will participate in the hunt again while our women gather the rice. Once more our people will be happy, Echohawk.”
“We shall ride together on the hunt,
,” Echohawk encouraged, wanting so badly for this to be so. If his father died, his heart would be empty. He had lost his mother during an intensely cold winter fifteen winters ago, and his wife and unborn child only recently. Surely the Great Spirit would not take his father from him also!
“You will get well,” Echohawk quickly added. “You
ride your horse again.”
But Echohawk doubted his own words. His father was a leader who had ruled his people with kindly wisdom, and was struggling to stay alive long enough to see that his people could begin a life anew close to two old friends, one Indian and one white. They planned to make camp within a half-day's ride from Chief Silver Wing, also Chippewa, and a half-day's ride from Fort Snelling, where Colonel Josiah Snelling was in chargeâa friend to all Indians.
Echohawk, a wise and learned man at his age of thirty winters, knew that his father had another reason for having chosen to make camp close to Chief Silver Wing's village. Gray Elk hoped that perhaps Echohawk might find a wife among Chief Silver Wing's people to replace the one that he was mourning.
But Echohawk did not see how anyone, ever, could take his wife's place in his heart, nor the child that Fawn had been carrying within her womb at the time of her death. Because of her death, Echohawk had thought strongly of taking his own life, his grief was so intense, but had known that his father and his people needed him too much for such a cowardly actâand also because a suicide had no chance to enter into paradise.
wise, my son, to move more closely to people that can be relied upon,” Gray Elk said, as though sensing his son's doubts. “And trading will be profitable with the white people who frequent Fort Snelling. Echohawk, you can trade in beaver. As you have seen on our journey here, buffalo and deer abound in this region, and Silver Wing spoke of muskrat and marten that were as plentiful as mice.”
, it will be good hunting and trading, Father,” Echohawk said, remembrances of his last hunt flooding him. Had it only been thirty sunsets ago when he had brought home a fat venison for his wife to cook? Had it only been thirty sunsets ago when he had watched her lovingly as she had sat across from him eating and laughing softly at his tales of the hunt? His gut ached with loneliness and despair, even now hearing the ring of her laughter and seeing the peace and love in her dark, beautiful eyes.
Gray Elk slipped his hand from Echohawk's and patted his cheek gently. “Echohawk, it is soon the smoky time, when leaves put on their war paint and the war drums of the wind become louder,” he said, a quavering smile touching his lips. “It is time to place sadnesses from your heart and choose a woman to warm your bed. And must I remind you, my son, that you are the only son of your father and must sire a son yourself. My grandson, your son, will be the future defender of our people, whose lives will depend upon his courage and skills. If the child is a girl, she will be the future mother of a noble race.”
Gray Elk patted Echohawk's cheek again, then lowered his trembling hand and slipped it beneath the warmth of the bear pelts. “For our people, place sadnesses of your loss from your mind and heart,” he softly encouraged. “That is the way it should be. It is for you to ensure the future of our band of Chippewa. Only you, my son. My time is soon over.”
Weary from the lengthy dialogue, Gray Elk exhaled a heavy sigh, then closed his eyes. “
,” he said, barely audible. “My son, I am getting sleepy. I . . . must . . . sleep.”
Guilt spread through Echohawk like wildfire. His father, a man of fifty-seven winters, was recovering much too slowly from a bullet wound in his chest. It had been hard to listen to his father pour his heart and soul out to him without being torn with anger and guilt, Echohawk having failed at defending his people the day of the raid. The raiders had come too suddenly upon his people while so many of them were away from the village, burning off the pine needles from the ground to ensure against forest fires later. Echohawk had been among those setting and controlling the fires. By the time word had reached him of the massacre, the raiders had had a head start on him and his braves, and during the chase had slipped away like ghosts in the night.
Echohawk had returned to his injured wife just as she had spoken her last words to him. She had revealed to Echohawk that a white man with the eyes of a coward and the renegade Sioux White Wolf had led the attack. It was the man with the eyes of a coward that had fired the bullets that had felled both Fawn and Chief Gray Elk.
Echohawk brushed a kiss across his father's brow, then rose to his full height, tears streaming down his cheeks. He doubled his hands to his sides in tight fists and looked up at the darkening heavens, vowing revenge.
But first he had his father's wishes to fulfill.
he would find the man with the eyes and heart of a coward. Also, one day he would come face-to-face with White Wolf. The renegade Sioux would
die an easy death.
“Vengeance will be mine!” he said beneath his breath, then turned his gaze back to his father when he awakened long enough to speak a few more words.
Dutiful son that he was, Echohawk knelt down again beside his father. He leaned his ear close to his father's lips, for his words were now no more than a whisper.
“May the Great Spirit watch over you, my son,” Gray Elk said, very aware of the despair and hurtful anger in the depths of his son's dark eyes. “He will guide you in which way is best for our people once I am gone. Remember this, Echohawk. Hungering for vengeance is like a festering sore inside one's heart. It will never heal.
“Peace, on the other hand, can give you comfort. Even as I lie here, a victim of hate and greed, I am at peace, for it was not I who initiated the raid which ended in many deaths and sorrows. Those that did are condemned forever to walk paths of darkness, their souls never to find peace. Practice restraint as taught to you as a child, and live in peace, my son. It is best for the future of our people.”
Echohawk flinched when his father again grasped his hand. “Echohawk, if you should die before you father a son, the future chief of our people, what then of our people?” he said, his voice filled with desperation. “Find a woman who will be the âflower of your wigwam.' Have a son soon. At a very early age see that he assumes the task of preserving and transmitting the legends of his ancestors and his race.”
Echohawk was at a loss for words, not knowing how to cope with his father's soft, tormented pleadings for a grandson. Echohawk did not see how he could ever desire another woman. His very soul even now cried out for Fawn, his beloved. He could still feel her softness within his arms. He could still hear how she so sweetly spoke his name. None other could be as sweet! As wonderful! How could he make such a promise that he felt he could not keep?
Yet he knew that what his father had said was true. The future of their people did depend on a succession of sons, and to have sons, one must have a wife.
But one's heart must be ready for a wife! Echohawk despaired to himself.
, sleep, Father,” Echohawk urged as he once again slipped his father's hand beneath the warmth of the pelts. “
, tomorrow. We shall discuss wives and grandsons tomorrow.”