The Wisdom Walkers – Pre-History Fiction by Corina Roberts
Great Southwestern Desert
74,000 BP (before present)
So soon to be
So young to be
In her innocence
The smells of food cooking permeated the air. The drummers sat under a canopy of wood posts and reed cover, drumming and singing a social gathering song.
Hann relaxed beneath a similar canopy along the southern edge of the circle. Dust rose in tiny clouds beneath the feet of the dancers, men and women alike, who moved in a circular pattern.
The song was good. Hann watched as a beautiful young girl, wearing a shawl with a large butterfly embroidered on the back, danced before him. Her movements were graceful and athletic, and she smiled a coy smile as she danced. Soon another, older girl was dancing next to her, energetic and bold, kicking her feet high and swinging a thick mane of long, black hair across her back, her head held proudly up, her expression one of supreme confidence. She moved between Hann and the younger girl, and danced the most intricate steps in flawless rhythm to the beat of the drum.
When the song ended, both girls gave Hann a long, expectant look. He smiled, but stayed firmly planted in his chair. The next song was a slower beat, more difficult for the young girls to dance, but well suited for the older women and men. Many of them took to the arena, performing a graceful step that went forward and to the side, forward and to the side, forming snakelike lines of people in the arena, dancing in unison.
A tall, dark-skinned woman which giant eagle feathers in her hair motioned for Hann to join in. He moved slowly from his chair and out into the circle. She took his arm and pulled him into the dancing formation between her two younger sisters, equally tall, with beautifully chiseled faces and raven colored hair. Each of them took a hold of one of Hann’s hands, and together they brought him around the arena. Just as the song was about to end, the piercing cry of an eagle bone whistle was heard, and the drummers continued. The women on either side of Hann smiled, and danced with renewed vigor. The woman to his right had a particularly firm grasp upon his hand.
At last the song was over, and Hann retreated to his canopy. On a ridge to the west, he spotted the children playing, and among them, he saw Hanna. With a coyote skin covering her head, she pretended to be a she-warrior, and leading the other children, who also placed animal skins on their heads, she crept along the ridge above the dance grounds, watching the adults below engage in their own form of play.
Hanna was a natural leader, and she had many qualities of a boy child. She was fearless, aggressive, and loved to dress in animal skins. She was fascinated with hunting and fishing, and quick to remind her father to give thanks for everything he caught. She was far less interested in planting and gathering, but at the tender age of seven summers, she was well versed in the care of plants, the time to harvest, the way to plant, and where to gather. It simply didn’t interest her much. She would much rather take riding lessons on Targa than play with dolls or tend to the harvest.
Hann wondered if that would be the harmful effect of her mother’s passing…that without the continual socializing toward the female traits that Hanna should have had, she would grow up to be an outcast…rather like Mikki. Perhaps it was Mikki herself to be blamed. Hanna thought of Mikki and saw in her mind’s eye a woman who was self-determined, who had her own horses, who made her own way through life.
She looked up to Mikki as a hero of sorts, almost a living legend, and although their time together had lasted but one full turn of the seasons, Hanna still mentioned her name, still asked when they would see her again, still wondered when Mikki would return for her horse, if nothing else.
There was no point in disturbing the children now, however. Their play was innocent enough, there were as many girls as boys, and they were all engaged in learning the sneak-up, as taught by Hanna, apparently without any of the older women taking mind to their antics. Perhaps she was yet young enough to avoid reprisal. It seemed to be so. Hann retired again to his chair.
There was a special song for a young girl coming of age. Dressed in her finest regalia and wearing the adornments of her entire family, she danced in front of an entourage of family members as they walked behind her. Everyone stood to honor the young girl as she danced by them.
Hann rose as she passed, and noticed that she lingered in front of him, dancing in place for several moments, before moving on. As the family came past him they all nodded and smiled. One of the older women broke out of the formation to come up to Hann and give him a hug. He wasn’t sure who she was except for a family member of the beautiful girl. He returned her embrace apprehensively. He didn’t know what it meant, or why it was happening.
After she had danced in front of her family this way one time around the circle, everyone stood up to join the procession, falling in behind the family. Hann rose to join them also, following the cue from an elderly man to his left. When the song was over, he tried to sit back down, but before he could do so, he saw a woman approaching from his left side.
With her was a shy young girl, thin and not very tall. Her face was lovely. Her regalia was more plain than the other girls, and she would not look up at Hann. Her hands were damp with perspiration, and she kept patting her shawl to dry them, and twisting the fringe between her fingers as if unwinding some imaginary knot.
The woman introduced herself to Hann, and then she introduced her young daughter. Dutifully the girl looked up, smiled a frightened, fragile smile, and extended her hand to Hann. He felt her trembling as he returned her very soft and brief embrace. Their hands barely touched before she withdrew.
Her hands were smooth and tender. Her skin was as smooth as a polished stone, and her innocence was evident in her every move. She was very young, and absolutely breath-taking to behold.
“We would like it very much if you danced with us” the mother said.
“I would be honored” Hann stammered. It wasn’t like he had a choice. The mother, stout and determined, had put her own body between Hann and his canopy, and there was little choice but to dance, or force his way past the matriarch…something not usually recommended at a social gathering. He might wake up the next morning with scorpions in his bed, or his hair missing, for such an offense. The rules of conduct at gatherings were strict, and politeness was the rule.
At the mother’s silent nod, the young girl danced in front of them. Hann tried to avert his eyes.
“She dances beautifully, doesn’t she? Watch her.” The mother instructed Hann to behave as he should have. He watched the young girl dance. She was more than beautiful. She floated across the ground as though tiny wings bore her feet forward. Her steps were delicate and feminine, her head was held proudly, and her hands were soft upon her shawl. But in her eyes Hann could see her discomfort. She was a mixture of fear and jubilation…taking her moment in the center of the circle with gracefulness and poise, dancing for a man she didn’t know, who was easily twice her age.
All at once Hann felt his stomach twisting inside of him. She was indeed dancing for him. And so were the other girls. All at once, he found it hard to breathe.
When they had made their way back around the circle to Hann’s canopy, he thought quickly. At the moment, the children were crouched below the ridgeline, out of sight. Hann hoped they would stay that way for just a little longer.
“I need to go check on my daughter. I will be right back.” Hann broke from his place next to the mother’s side. The young girl looked over her shoulder in surprise and confusion. Hann smiled at her and nodded his approval of her…her dance, her beauty, her fragile elegance.
“Thank you” he said to her, in a soft and kind voice. He should have shook her hand again, but he made his way hastily out of the arena instead.
Hanna was surprised to see her father.
“Aren’t you supposed to be down there watching the dancers?” Her question annoyed him.
“Aren’t you supposed to be playing with dolls and toy tipis?”
Hanna twisted up her face in a mock snarl and stuck out her tongue. Then she turned her back to him, and shook her coyote tail, which, on her small frame, wagged along the ground like a dust broom.
Hanna spun around and looked her father square in the eyes. “Where’s Mikki?”
Hann took a deep breath. He didn’t want to go through this again. He had explained it plenty of times. Now was not the time.
“You know Mikki left. You know I couldn’t find her. You know she has had plenty of time to come back if she was going to. I don’t know where Mikki is. I don’t think we are ever going to see her again.”
“Yes we will.” Hanna stated flatly. “We have her horse. She never gave you Targa. You have to bring Targa back. If you’re going to marry someone else, you have to bring Targa back first.”
Hann was silent. Obviously Hanna had caught on long before Hann what was happening below in the arena.
“I am not going to marry anyone today.”
Hanna rolled her dark, mischievous eyes at him. “Oh, yeah, right.” Then she jumped back, out of his reach, just as his hand lunged out to grab her.
Holding the paws of the coyote skin like a shawl, she imitated the dances of the older girls, parading around her father, shaking her coyote tail in an exaggerated fashion and thrusting out her chest. She flung her head back and gave her father a mock flirtatious wink. Then, with grace that surprised him, she pulled off some moves with her feet that rivaled anything he saw in the arena. Her impression of the older girls was remarkably accurate, if exaggerated.
“Hanna, stop it” Hann scowled.
The tiny girl stopped dancing. She pulled her coyote skin down to nearly cover her eyes and gave her father a stern look, up and down. Then she turned her back to him, and without as much as a glance over her shoulder, walked away.
Hann returned to the circle in a different mood. He was no longer relaxed. He realized that indeed he was the center of attention for a number of young women who were competing for his favor…and not all of them were even young. As the day wore on, slowly now, each song seeming to take forever to end, and more and more women approached Hann.
Some of them brought gifts of food, which he wasn’t sure if he should accept, but under the circumstances, he had little choice. Older women made gestures as they danced that let him know they were not only interested in him, but capable of pleasuring him. Several times the matriarch tried to herd Hann along behind her lovely young daughter, but he managed to avoid her most of the time.
At last it was dinner time. Hann made sure to stand in line as soon as the dinner cry was heard, so that no one could bring him food in his canopy. It was to no avail. There were several plates waiting for him when he returned. He kept walking, past his canopy, away from the circle, down toward the swollen creek’s sandy banks. Even here he was not alone. Two young women were chatting excitedly amongst themselves on the rock outcrop he had hoped would be unattended. They left quickly, however, when they saw him approach. It was customary for women to behave in such a way. If a man wanted to go somewhere, and he did not ask a woman to be with him, then a woman had to leave, even if she was in the place first.
Hann tried to eat, but he found little taste in the food that smelled so delicious. His stomach was unwilling to consume much nourishment. The food stuck in his throat and he worked hard to swallow it.
The drumming had ceased while the drummers and singers took their dinner. Most of the camp fell into a kind of hush as people ate. On the ridge above, the children had already eaten their meal, and were back to playing. Once again Hann could see Hanna at the helm. She had traded her coyote skin for some other garment, and as Hann studied her shape silhouetted against the skyline, he saw that it was his fringed buckskin shirt she had put on.
The shirt covered her like a dress, with its evenly cut fringe draping nearly to the ground from her arms and its bottom edges covering her to her ankles. She had to lift up the bottom of the shirt to dance in it, and she danced like a southern woman, taking slow, measured steps, rising up to an imaginary drumbeat from her knees while keeping her body erect, bending to the left and to the right, slowly swinging the fringe from her arms to and fro while she pretended to carry a folded shawl and an imaginary fan. The other children danced behind her, some of the girls imitating her regal steps.
Hanna danced her way to the very edge of the ridgeline, in full view of the dance arena below, and there, against the late afternoon sun, appeared as if she were a woman in a buckskin dress on a distant hill. The other children stayed just a step back behind her. Across the relative silence, her young voice boomed.
“Makakanta N’nantaka!” Everyone looked. Hanna raised her voice even louder. “Makakanta N’nantaka! Makakanta N’nantaka! Makakanta N’nantaka!” There, on the ridgeline, Hanna danced before them, fringe swaying back and forth as she stretched out her arms to each side and threw back her head, letting out a tremolo that filled the air like the wailing cry of an adult woman. Then, she stomped her right foot hard into the sandstone ridgeline, spun on her heels, and vanished out of view.
Hann left his plate on the rocks, uneaten. He looked about. There was no one close by. Hann slipped down off the rocks and made his way across the creek hastily, skirting brush and trees, stepping only on rocks, leaving no trace of his moccasin prints in the damp sand. He made his way along the edge of the camp to his own lodge, going in quietly. He did not light a fire, despite the sun’s waning in the sky. There, he waited quietly for Hanna’s return. She eventually sauntered up, arms limp at her side, the lovely fringe from his shirt making tracks in the dust as it trailed behind her.
“Daddy!” Hanna was surprised to see her father. The celebration was set to go on all night, and she was prepared to stay up top, with the women who had small children, playing and frolicking all night long, or as late as she could. That was the beauty of the adult dances…it gave the children an opportunity to stay up late, and have a riotous bunch of fun imitating the adults below.
Hann held his fingers to his lips soundlessly. Hanna fell immediately into silence…the silence of anticipation. Her dark eyes danced. She stared at her father, seeking clues from his troubled frown. Something was going to happen. She had no idea what it might be, but the look on her father’s face made her certain it would be something big.
Hanna curled up on a blanket and watched as her father sorted through his things, packing them hastily into saddlebags. He took a long look at Hanna.
“Take my shirt off. Put on all your warm clothes.” Hanna was silently obedient. She handed her father the buckskin shirt, and he pulled it over his own head and the thin leather vest he wore. He put around his neck a choker of red and black stone beads and laced it snugly about his neck. Carefully he took his long knife and sheath, and strapped it to his side, and to his other side, a shorter knife cased in a well-worn sheath. Its sharpened tip protruded from the bottom, dangling close to his flank.
Over his moccasins he pulled his leggings on, and fastened them swiftly. Atop these he pulled on yet another set of leggings, a short pair that reached from his knees to his ankles and acted as brush guards when riding in the desert. He fastened these over his moccasins and his long leggings, just below his knees.
Next, he gathered together his eagle feathers, which were tied about the lodge facing the four directions. He tied these to a rope and leather bridle that Hanna immediately recognized. It belonged to Targa, the only horse in the camp with a head large enough to fit inside the circumference of the bit-less bridle, and the only horse ridden that way…all the others had been trained with a rope or leather thong tied under their jaw and into their mouths, in the place where there were no teeth, along the bottom jaw. Hanna was filled with excitement, and wanted to say something, but she knew better, and stayed silent.
“Do you have your moccasins on?”
“Yes daddy.” Hanna showed her tiny shod feet to her father.
“Put your coyote back on.”
“My coyote?” Hanna was thrilled. Her father nodded. Swiftly she pulled the skin down snug to her head, and tied it with leather straps that protruded from the coyote’s chin until it was fastened tightly beneath her own chin. Hann took the ties that extended from the coyote’s shoulders and tied them to Hanna’s small shoulders. Her little eyes gleamed with anticipation.
Then, Hann took a much larger skin, that of a wolf in his winter coat, and put it over himself just as Hanna had done with the coyote. The wolf’s tail extended to the ground behind him, and its thick fur covered his entire broad back. He crouched down inside the lodge, and watched soundlessly as darkness fell and the women gathered up the children for a story-telling by the just-lit fire on top of the ridge.
The fire was built up to be bright and warm, and its light illuminated the circle of young and old gathering around it, all of them with their backs toward Hann’s lodge, or blocked from view by those whose backsides Hann could see. A woman walked by very near the entrance of the lodge. Hann tipped his head down slightly as she passed, leaving only the menacing head of the wolf visible should she peek inside. In a moment the woman passed by without stopping. Hann slowly raised his head.
“Now what?” Hanna whispered.
“Follow me. Quietly.” Her father’s tone was very serious. She slipped out of the lodge, following close behind him, trying not to step on his long, bushy tail.
They made their way to the horses. Targa was easy enough to spot. Despite her dark color, she had three white socks, and a tuft of white hair at her withers that shone in the darkest night. She was also a good bit taller than the other ponies, most of them dun, brown or bay, with few white markings. All of the horses came to attention as they saw the silhouettes of Wolf and Coyote approaching. One of the horses at the edge of the herd gave a warning snort.
Hann tried to sooth them with his voice. “Shhhhhhhh. Easy now, easy now.” The horses eyed him warily, but did not run. Targa picked up her head from grazing and watched with interest. It smelled and sounded like Hann and Hanna, with wolves on their heads. Targa had seen this before. So had the other horses. It was just not usual to see only one person with a small one coming this way, and at nightfall…this was the way of a hunting party, and usually, the horses were also adorned with paint, feathers and various amulets. Fear turned to interest as the herd of horses watched Hann and Hanna move slowly across the pasture toward Targa.
“Let me call her, dad.” Hanna said quietly. Her father obliged.
“Targa, here baby girl.” The big bay mare immediately responded to the child’s voice, and came toward them, head down, ready to accept the bridle. Hann slipped it quickly over her head. In another moment, he had placed a thick layer of folded buffalo hide on her back, and lashed it securely about her girth, making a knot that he could use to steady his foot on when he mounted her. In the next instant, Hanna found herself moving through the air and onto the tall mare’s back. Hann took the reins over her neck and handed them to his daughter.
“Hold her steady.” Hanna took the reins in her small hands and pulled back until she could feel equal resistance from both reins. Targa obediently bowed her head and stood still, as Hann slipped his saddlebags onto her back behind Hanna. Then, in a single motion, he put his right moccasin on top of the girth knot, took hold of her white tuft of mane, and pulled himself up and onto her back, seating himself on the smooth leather strap between his saddlebags, and just behind Hanna.
He looked about, and saw no one. Taking the reins from Hanna, he pulled the mare’s head around to the right, and squeezed her sides with his thighs. She needed little encouragement, and was instantly off, at a rather bouncy trot, away from camp, to the edge of the make-shift pasture.
“Daddy, the fence.” Hanna knew well that the wooden pole fence extended the full span of the pasture that was not bordered by a sharp incline or a deep ravine.
“Just hold on tight” her father said. Soon the fence was in view. Targa pricked her ears forward. Hann urged her on, directly at the lowest portion of the barrier. She snorted and broke into a canter. Hanna shrieked.
The big mare came almost to a stop before raising up on her hind legs and neatly clearing the fence, with ample room beneath her belly and the wooden poles below. She landed smoothly on the other side, with Hann and Hanna still intact, and picked up her pace at the canter again. Some of the other horses had followed them across the pasture, but the fence stopped them all, and they watched silently as Targa disappeared into the night.
The night was clear and cool, but not unbearable. It would take all evening to get out of the canyon and up on a trail outside the sandstone walls. Hann slowed Targa to a trot. He folded his legs so that his feet rested behind him on Targa’s back, and his knees came to rest upon his saddle bags, cushioning him from a substantial amount of bouncing. Hanna tried to follow suit, but found her balance compromised when she did, and chose to let her legs dangle on either side of the bay mare.
“Where are we going daddy?” Hanna couldn’t possibly keep quiet for very much longer.
“We’re going to give Mikki her horse back.”
Targa hardly needed any direction. It was as if she had been primed for this journey, and knew its purpose. She picked her way through the maze of canyon trails with little assistance, and just as the night sky gave way to the first rays of morning sunlight, the bay mare crested the final, steep piece of trail that separated them from the plateaus above.
The Great Caves were many, many days to the north. If Hann was going to reach Mikki, he would have no time to waste. Soon she would be leaving for the east coast, and from his recollection, she would depart in mid to late spring. If, in fact, she had ever made it back to the Great Caves last summer.
“What if we can’t find Mikki?” Hanna’s question was valid.
“We will still give her back her horse. We can leave it with her people.”
“Those aren’t her people” Hanna said, in a serious tone. “Those of the people of her husband, who is dead. Mikki doesn’t have any people. That’s why she needed us. We were her people.”
Hann fell silent for a long spell. Finally he retorted. “Hanna, how do you know that?”
Hanna turned around to face her father as she spoke, looking into his own dark eyes. “I know that because Mikki told me so.”
The father and daughter then rode together in silence for much of the morning, and the big bay mare pressed eagerly onward.
The Wisdom Walkers
by Corina Roberts
available online at http://www.lulu.com/corinaroberts
P.O. Box 202
Simi Valley, CA 93062
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