Now let me tell you about The People, as they were when I was a vital young man, that you might see. Let me tell you about my brother from the lands to the south, and the demon that tormented him.
He came to the Great Slave Lake tribes about eight years, as he measured it, before it found him. He wasn’t as tall as we are, and he insisted on dressing like a white guy, in pants, a chequered shirt, and suspenders and boots. His face was weathered and creased like worn leather, but his blue eyes carried the weight of his years like the mist of the giant forests to the south, like fresh morning air. And he still wore a thick rusty beard that was starting to go grey. That's what he looked like when he asked to cross into Etchaotinne territory.
“What are you doing all the way up here,” Grandmother asked him, “Did you get lost?” Everybody laughed. He said that was pretty much what happened, so Grandmother said we would call him that, Ten Taquo, which means Lost His Way, but his name in the white language was Carson.
He came well equipped to travel in the north country, at least for spring time, but no dogs and no sled, so if it was winter, he would have had a tough time of it.
“No, I knew it would be a tough trip in the winter, so I've been making what progress I can on horseback,” he told us in the Cree tongue, “They tried to show me how to use dogs in Fort Saskatchewan, but its not my thing. A horse I can handle.”
Our Black River tribe was prosperous back then, and the many children were growing up. The Chief, Big Elk, had told the young men that a new village might be necessary soon. When Lost His Way went to ask if he could stay with us for a winter or so, this is what the Chief talked about, but Big Elk had something else in mind. I could tell by his eyes. He was not an old Chief. He had a couple of grand children in the Tribe by one daughter, but his other children were only just young adults. He was no longer spry like his son Tkenika, and his face drooped a little bit with his years, but he looked commanding, and always knew what to do. He told Lost His way that they could discuss it again later in the summer, but he could hunt with us if he provided for the Tribe as well as himself.
So Carson set up his square tent on the outskirts of the tepees and settled in. The kids would go and play around him while he maintained his horse and tent. The older boys and girls sometimes bugged him but they couldn't make him lose his temper. Eventually the young men and women would go around and ask him about life in the south, or about hunting.
Tkenika was the first to challenge him to a match with the bow. He had the others set up targets at forty paces.
“That's it?” Lost His Way asked, “That's too close.”
“My friend,” said Tkenika, “I have the strongest bow on this lake, and it just accurate that far.”
“Please,” said Lost His Way, “Let me show you.” and he took out his bow, which was much larger than any of ours, and strung it.
“That bow will be too loose,” Tkenika said.
“It's made of yew tree, in a special way,” Lost His Way said, and he notched an arrow and let it fly. The arrow flew straight and true another thirty paces past the targets.
The men were all astonished, and crowded around to look at this new 'long-bow' as it was called.
“Well do you have two of these long bows?” Tkenika asked.
“I have another piece of Yew which can be made into one”
“Then we will wait until both of us can use a bow like yours, and then we will see who can shoot better.”
“My friend,” said Lost His Way, “If you are a better aim than I am I will give you the new bow as a gift.” Which everybody approved of. It wasn't long before he and several others would go on hunting trips together, and bring back game.
Later that same year, other white people came to the village hoping to trade with us. Before Lost His Way knew about it, they had traded some whiskey for furs and a few pelts, and the men and women who drank it went crazy. Lost His Way and Tkenika returned in the evening from fishing to find some of the drunk men fighting over the whiskey.
Big Elk was among them trying to stop everything, but they would fight with him, and then continue fighting with each other.
“What has happened to them?” Tkenika asked, “Are they crazy?”
But then Lost His Way found a jar and smelled it, “Oh they're crazy all right,” he said, “I'll help the Chief. You go look for more of these jars. Dump them in the fire.”
They set about separating the fighters, who all fell back in surprise when Tkenika dumped the first jar of alcohol on to the fire. It leaped into the air and lit up the camp like daylight. As everyone fell backwards, drunken and clumsy, the Chief and Lost His Way gained control of the group. Soon all of the liquor, as he called it later, was gone. The fighters were falling asleep so they met up back at the Chief's tepee. Grandmother came by to see what the commotion was about. While old, she refused to just sit with the other elders and get stiff with age.
“What happened out there?” She demanded. We all looked at Carson.
“Its alcohol- fire water- some call it,” he said, “Its a poison, but most people don't think of it that way because it kills so slowly. It makes people crazy, just like you saw, but it gets worse. It will destroy your village, and probably your people.” he cursed in the white tongue and looked around him.
“Where did it come from? We have to warn other tribes about it.”
“There are two new white guys camped by your tent. They came here today.”
“Are you sure it’s really that bad?” Grandmother asked.
Carson nodded, “You need to make the men go away. In fact, I'll do it. They-”
“No,” said the Chief, “I will speak for our Tribe. You sneak around with Tkenika and listen.”
And so the Chief went to talk with the new white guys. Tkenika and Carson quietly went around the village and behind the tents of the traders.
The two traders were sloppy and grimy. They did not shave or stay clean like Lost His Way did, and so they smelled terribly. They would not speak in the Peoples' tongues, so the Chief spoke in the White tongue (which we did not know until then that he could).
“So how'd you like the fire water, there Chief?” said one of them.
“Alcohol,” he said pointedly, “Is not welcome here. Now, it would be best, gentlemen, if you left Etchaotinne lands, for good.”
“Aw well hang on there Chief. We didn't know you spoke such good English. Well hell, yer just a good ole boy!,” said the other, “Now we didn't mean no harm. We just wanted to trade a bit 'sall. What say you break out a peace pipe and we can talk this thing through?”
“You will have to leave now,” said the Chief.
They pulled their jackets open to reveal revolvers stuck in their pants.
“Now Chief, I know we both speak this language, but I don't want it to come to that. Now I notice that there is another white fella here, why don't you let us talk to him, and, maybe we can smooth this thing over, to our mutual benefit,” said the one.
Carson walked out from around the rear of the tents and stood in front of the Chief.
“You'll have to put yer shiny smoke wagons away, boys, or there ain't gonna be much talkin,” he said.
They complied, “Talkin's all we wanted, s'long as its reasonable and, polite like.”
“Let me try to, 'parley' with the Chief here,” said Carson. Then he turned slightly to face the Chief, but not enough to take his eyes off the two men.
In the Peoples language he said, “So, you speak better English than I do. Anything else I need to know?”
“I can explain that. Right now I'm a bit worried about their pistols,” said the Chief.
“Oh these boys didn't get sent all the way out here because they were good with guns,” said Carson, “Say more about how you can speak so good in English.”
“Me and Wolf Brother spent some time in Toronto and Halifax,” he said.
“Look, all I can tell you is that there are a lot of boys and girls in Halifax who don't look like their fathers.”
“Oh what?” said the Chief, “You are some kind of fawn among jackals? Please. Find out where else they've been.”
“Yes my Chief,” said Carson in English. To the traders he said, “The Chief wants to know how far you have been travelling, and how far you are going.”
“Ah, well we've been a ways to the east, and did some business with the Cree. Don't mind tellin you its a bit safer here with the Echayteens,” said one conversationally, “But here, how about we talk about the Chief's, uh, disposition.”
“No change there, I'm afraid.” said Carson, “You'll have to pack up and leave right away.”
“Nope, that's it, boys. No more liquor in these parts.”
“Now look-” the one to Carson's left opened his jacket again to show off his pistol, but Carson hit him square in the chin so hard that he didn't get back up. The other one fumbled with the pistol in his pants, but Carson grabbed his wrist and punched him in the face until he too fell down and didn't get up. Then he collected the guns from them and gave them to the Chief.
Tkenika and Grandmother came around the front of the tent and looked at the downed men.
“You only hit them a few times!” said Tkenika.
Carson nodded, “Meet 'thunder' and 'lightening'” he said, looking at his fists. He and the men laughed at that, but Grandmother was less than happy.
“Mmm. Are Thunder and Lightening going to stop the rest of the white people when these two tell them that we attacked them and stole all of their things?”
Lost His Way stopped laughing then, because he had heard the talk all the way across the Dominion of similar things happening. At Fort Saskatchewan, they still talked about the Hay River tribe, and how it had been massacred over liquor trading.
“Grandmother is right,” he said, “These two men cannot go back to report this.”
“We can't keep them,” The Chief reminded.
Tkenika had an idea, “They said that it was safer here than among the Cree. Maybe the Cree are still looking for them.”
The Chief nodded, “We will send them to Wolf Brother.” He turned to Carson, “You can ask him about Toronto. He loves to talk about it. Ask him about the wrestling matches.”
“Oh, I will,” said Carson in the Peoples tongue.
“Just don't repeat any of it.”
About a week later, Tkenika, Mistishin, and Lost His Way rode into the Cree camp of Wolf Brother on the Rat River to the south east. The sun was high overhead when they arrived and an escort of young men brought them into the village of permanent tepees, settled into a flowered meadow in the lee of a semi forested hill. The bank of the river fell away to the water some twenty feet, as Carson eyed it.
“Does the river flood here, cousin?” Mistishin asked the escort.
“It does, but only the grandfathers remember the last time,” they said, “Did you see any of the ice bears last winter?” asked the same one.
“Not us,” replied Mistishin, “But the Dog People across the lake told us they saw many. Good hunting for bears, so many cubs.”
“I would like to see one,” said the youth, “And I would like to meet one of the Dog People. It is said that they are savages who eat their own children.”
Mistishin appeared to actually consider the idea, much to the amusement of Tkenika and Lost His Way.
Tkenika could not let it sit that way, though, “Mistishin is too young to have seen them, but when I was Fox Boy, Grandfather took me and the older ones to trade with the Dog People. He was friends with Tukloolak, of the Bear Lake Tribes, and I played with the children there. They are much like us, but their land is much harsher, so their ways are different.”
“Hm. I am Chuklo. Chief Wolf Brother is my uncle. I will go get him.”
Wolf Brother was older than Big Elk, but had the same sense of balance and wit.
“You look like my brother, Big Elk,” he said to Tkenika. “And you,” he said to Mistishin, “Look very much like my cousin, Weyameesa. But this one doesn't look like any human being I ever saw.” and he winked at Mistishin,
“We tried to disguise him, but he wouldn't scalp his face,” Mistishin replied.
Lost His Way laughed, “I would make a poor Human Being, Chief.”
Tkenika saved him from being awkward, “Carson is with us, but my father, Big Elk, told me to say that he is a gift to you from him.”
Wolf Brother didn't laugh this time.
“Carson? From- Well,” he looked at Tkenika slyly, “Your father is a real joker. He knows I've had my fill of KwalAten. Hmph! Just for that I will tell you a few stories about Big Elk that I shouldn't, eh? But you brought more white guys too.” he said, noticing the two other horses with the roped offenders draped unceremoniously over the bare backs.
“These ones came to us and wanted to trade fire water,” Tkenika said, “They said that they were fleeing the Cree, and-”
“And since you decorated them so pretty,” Wolf Brother finished, inspecting their bruised and broken faces, “You thought maybe we could make them disappear. Ordinarily, this would not be well met, but it turns out that the Cub River Tribe is looking for two white guys selling liquor. They got some of the young ones drunk and ravaged two of the young girls.”
He turned to one of the young men, “Bokechitay, run to Cub river and tell my cousin Moose Talking that we have the white guys. And come right back! Chucklo, take my nephews and set up that new tepee we made. They will be our guests for a few days. Carson and I will talk a bit.”
Wolf Brother led him into the village to the largest tepee where a group of women, some old and some young were constructing some decorative garments.
“Go over to Wekalut's and do that,” he told them. They all got up and moved on, pretending not to look at Carson. Once inside the Chief made them comfortable, and then broke into English.
“So what's with these two white guys?”
“Just what it sounds like Chief,” Carson replied, “I was out fishing with Tkenika and when we got back some of the tribe was whooping it up. They started fighting. When we got there Big Elk was having trouble settling them down.” He related the rest of the tale. When he was finished, Wolf Brother thoughtfully looked about his tepee.
“It’s a bad thing that is. And its probably not even good alcohol. You know there's nobody down there regulating what goes into it. You heard about Hay River?”
“Craziness. It’s not like the Cree are angels, but that was snow blind crazy.”
Then he changed the subject, “So it must have been a surprise when Big Elk started talking in the white tongue, hey?”
Carson nodded, “It sure was. You two speak it better than I do. Tkenika says its just the spirits guiding me to here, but I told him this was pretty much the standard route to the north country, so if you were here, I was bound to run into you.”
“Still,” Wolf Brother replied, “He may have a point there. So what did my brother Big Elk tell you?”
“Not much,” Carson replied, “Just that you both had spent some time in Toronto and Halifax. And that he would cut my balls off if I repeated any of it. ”
“Hah! He would, too,” laughed the Chief, “No. It’s best if nobody else knows about what goes on in white people cities. I don't need to be a prophet to tell you that your little incident at Big Elk's is what all of the People will go through at some point. The whole damned lot of us. Why rush into that? You know, the Elders were trying to get rid of us when they sent us off to Toronto, but they were wiser than they knew. Now, when I look at our youngsters like Tkenika, it makes me glad to know they have grown up strong without that influence.”
“I'm with you, there, Chief. That's why I'm up here. There's nothing that clean living and hard work can't cure in a man.”
“Big Elk said to ask you about the wrestling matches,” Carson prodded.
“Mhmm. A long time ago. When we looked like the youngsters you brought with you. We were always getting into trouble, me and him. Always going to meet other villages. We attacked some white guys who were harassing a small village north of Fort Saskatchewan and drove them off. Burned all of their liquor. The HBC started sending guys after us, but the real trouble was that they started punishing people we stayed with. White Bear, and Fox Elder and some of the others decided we needed to disappear for awhile, so they ordered us to attack Toronto.”
“What- sorry, what? Attack Toronto?”
“I'm not kidding. It was their way of saying 'get lost before you get somebody else killed'.” he chuckled.
“So there it was. We packed up and headed for Toronto. Took weeks to get there, and we stopped in a lot of places, but mostly we had to stay hidden. You know you white people are crazy, right?”
Carson nodded, “Been part of that craziness for too long.”
“Religion and politics, my friend. They're like alcohol and gun powder, and money is the spark. We stopped in a town called 'McGillivray'- I'll never forget it, it’s like another word for crazy- to me, anyway. We had to get past it, but it was a busy area, and all we could do was sneak right through the town by the church. The preacher there was like the devil. I'm telling you, Carson, that guy had demonic fire in his eyes. He was whipping everybody up against some guys in a nearby town. We were stuck under the front steps of the church through the whole thing.”
“We made it through though, and our English was getting pretty good. Big Elk had discovered that white women liked to sneak around on their husbands, and some of them would give us money if we came back to them. Can you believe that?”
Carson had no trouble believing that.
“I have no trouble believing that,” he said.
“Well, you can't just be a savage wandering around with money among white guys, and we ended up in jail outside of Toronto. Can't remember what for. But we ended up talking with a woman a couple of cells over who had been arrested for prostitution, and Big Elk struck a deal with her. She would front for us by playing a madam, which apparently is okay,” Wolf Brother rolled his eyes and shook his head, “And we would just have sex all of the time, which we thought was a great deal. Charlene took to the role too. She had us in a mansion before long on a nice estate, with a bunch of women prostitutes too. We did huge business. Me and Big Elk had more sex that year than the whole Cree nation will in ten. We didn't end up with much money but we conquered Toronto, in a sense.”
“How long were you there?” Carson asked.
“Oh, a couple of years. It wasn't long before Charlene had to move us to Halifax. A new preacher had moved to town, and was using the brothel as his big cause. The truth was that Charlene was doing business with everyone important in the region, and they wanted to get rid of her so she couldn't hold it over their heads. So what? We did just as well in Halifax until her drinking became a problem. When we saw the end coming, we took a bunch of money and headed back to Toronto for awhile.”
“So what's your story?” Wolf Brother asked.
Carson shuffled a bit. He had known that this would come up sooner or later, but it still made him uncomfortable. Now that Wolf Brother had gone so far as to tell his own story, Carson was obligated to give him something. He was nervous, though, because in his mind, his own story was not one of some young guys having a few years on the town, and he worried that Wolf Brother would reject him.
“I left the family farm pretty young. Spent some time in the military under Stonewall Jackson when we were in Mexico. Did some mercenary work in South America, and then I stood with Jackson again at Bull Run, and then again later. After Jackson died, I headed north without the uniform. I spent some time in New York helping Irish folk get into the country, wrestled for money, then moved on to smuggling rum for awhile, and then stayed in Toronto.” he sighed, “I guess I just got tired of having so many people around, and I thought I would head out some place with fewer people.”
“A nice story,” Wolf Brother said, his faded eyes revealing his skepticism, “But why don't you tell me the real story, hmmm? Ah- please,” he said, holding up a hand to forestall the objections, “I think I can tell when someone's not giving me the whole truth. You followed Jackson loyally, and then quit the war when he died, but now he's no more than a footnote in your life? Don't think so,” he paused.
“You were there when he died, weren't you? What happened?”
Carson was as close to panic as he had ever been. This was the topic he had never spoken of to anyone, the topic that scared him so badly that he roamed half of the earth to avoid talking about it. Now Wolf Brother had seen through him like plate glass, and demanded the story. He wanted to get up and leave, but he knew these folks would give him to the Cub River Tribe along with the disgusting traders. And what about Tkenika and Mistishin? He couldn't just leave them now. He looked at Wolf Brother, took a deep breath and began.
“I was there. At Chancellorsville. We had destroyed Hooker's right flank, and they were falling back in chaos. I- It was pitch black out. Night, storm clouds. Only cannon fire from the centre and the left to see where we were going. Jackson charged into them ahead of us and we lost sight. I was screaming for him, and screaming at my men to follow." He shivered as if that night had reached out to chill his skin once again.
"I was running up a shallow hill and a muskett fired to my right. I ran over the hill into a Union fortification. It had been blown open by our cannons. There was Jackson laid out flat on his back, and Tanner standing over him with the smoking musket in his hands. Tanner was one of my juniors. Not a bad soldier, but disrespectful at times. He killed Jackson, and when he heard me come over the hill he turned and looked at me- it was Him, it was- It. The glowing red eyes. The insane smile.
“It said, 'Carson. Why did you kill Stonewall Jackson', and then laughed,”
“I shot him with my musket, and then with my single shots, and then I stuck him with my bayonet, and ran him through with my sabre. He wouldn't die, just like before.”
“You've run into this thing before.”
Carson nodded, “On the farm. In Texas, Cuba, Argentina, Ecuador, Panama. And since then in Oregon, Montana, New York, Toronto. Guess it was '64, In Toronto the first time, one night after a wrestling match I got up and wandered outside. They cornered me in an alley, a lot of them. He- it- just stood there watching while I fought all of those men. They just kept coming. Finally they were all down, but I was too weak to fight anymore, and it came for me. I couldn't even lift my hand to stop him.
“He grabbed me, lifted me up, and drew back to hit me. I saw the fist coming down, but he dropped me and passed out. He got up, and tried to kick me, but the same thing happened. I began to crawl away, and it kept trying to hit me, only to pass out. I don't understand how it happened, but I escaped, and left Toronto. I roamed around, working for Hudson's Bay Company for a time, and then I decided to head up north.”
Wolf Brother nodded, “There were thirteen of them,” he said. He paused and let the information sink in for Carson. No words came out of Carson's mouth, but after a second stretched into a minute, it was clear that he got it.
Wolf Brother nodded again, “Never seen anything like it. Where did you learn to fight like that?”
“Uh, Argentina. A Japanese fella from Okinawa.”
“Amazing. Big Elk and I won five hundred dollars betting on you at the wrestling matches. We were watching from a room above that alley later and we saw the guy. Glowing red eyes. He was totally focused on you as you whooped those guys. He even laughed at them sometimes.”
They were both silent for a time. Carson was still processing feelings that he had never had an outlet for until now. He had been a prey animal in silence for many years, always planning the next run, always having the exit ready. Now his plight was in the open, he could only fathom how his new friends would believe he was simply another crazy KwalAten. They would be sympathetic to his face, and then ask him to move on. Why not? Either he was a loon, and a danger, or there was a real threat, and he was still dangerous. Opening up may have worked that time in Ecuador, but he could not hope that these new people would be like that. Carson would not even look up at Wolf Brother, but waited for the verdict to fall.
“Have you ever heard of a Manitou?” Wolf Brother asked.
Carson shook his head.
“That's why they hang out among you,” the Chief snorted, “What white guy would recognize them? Among the People there are traditions, and the elders often can see them. They are spirits that are- well they have missions, in a way. That's their reason for being, it’s why they exist. It’s all they know. This one has attached itself to you. Me and Big Elk, we knew that guy was a Manitou when we saw him try to beat on you. He needed to destroy you.”
“Why? I'm just a farm-boy. I was gonna raise cattle.”
“There's something about you, Carson. It just hates that, and does whatever it has to, to destroy it.” he said. “If I was to guess, I would say it’s your spirit. Good people gravitate to you. People thrive around you.”
“How come it’s taken so long to beat you?” Wolf Brother asked.
Carson thought back, “Well, sometimes I had help. Like in Ecuador, the local sorcerer drove him off, and gave me a special blanket that kept me hid, but it got stolen in Oregon, and that's when it found me. I suppose I always gravitated to good folks. The old sorcerer said that was what the blanket was for, to protect the others.”
“We need to talk with someone who knows spirits. Stay here.”
Now Carson was in a funk. It almost sounded like he had some help, but that was too much to ask for. In this self talk of confusion he stewed while the Chief was out.
The tepee flap opened and a woman came in. In her early forties, he guessed, she was fully covered in the elk skin garments favored by these folk, and her hair was tied back tightly. Her wide round face showed no fear of Carson, though, and her bright brown eyes seemed to know something he didn't.
As if she read his mind, she chided, “TenTaquo, a crazy man would not defend our cousins from other crazy KwalAten. Eat. We will not let the spirits take you. Grandfather is coming.” She smiled easily while she set out some meat for him, and then left.
He slipped deeper into confusion. They will not let the spirits take me? Could they be like that old Uraqui sorcerer? Could they know what to do? Carson thought back to the times he faced enemies under Stonewall Jackson. He had tasted fear many times, fear of death. Not fear of the enemy- they were always just other men. Not even the -It- made him so afraid anymore, since he was familiar. This was worse. He simply couldn't predict what was going to happen.
The flap opened again, and through came a very old and frail looking man in elk skins decorated with beads and bangles, tassles and feathers. His long grey hair hiding his weather beaten face, he hobbled into the centre of the tepee and took half a dozen steps to turn and face Carson. Wolf Brother came in and helped the old man sit down across from him.
“This is Crow Elder,” he said and sat down.
“Ah. Look,” the old man croaked at Wolf Brother, “See? He is beaten and frail. The white men took very poor care of him. We will restore him.” He leaned over and looked Carson in the eyes.
“Sleep,” commanded the wavering old voice. Carson fell over immediately, and went fast asleep.
Somewhere in the dark void of dreamscape, he heard a rising tide of wailing voices. A chanting resonated out there beyond his ability to locate, but it was getting louder, gradually.
“AyAAA ayah ayAheyy. AyAAAA ayah ayAheyyy.” Softly at first this resonance appealed with only one voice, then a couple added to the insistence, then many voices created the demand, and the volume disturbed things in the void. Since time had been forgotten in this place, Carson could not estimate how long the chanting went on, but at some point, it seemed to go on for hours before it became punctuated by lightening striking his hands, and thunder rolling swiftly outward from it. To one side, he noted a very young looking Crow Elder dancing. Occasionally he would clap his hands together mightily, and lightening would lash out into Carson's hands. White light spewed from Crow Elder's eye sockets, and the brash war paint slashing down across his eyes glowed red. His chanting and dancing had a trance-like magic about it that held Carson's attention.
Drums joined the high pitched chant, swift and urgent. They were a heart beat not of panic but of fighting, and the chanting crowd reached a new pitch. Crow Elder stomped one foot, and the earth shook. He clapped his hands, drawing the lightening and the thunder again.
Carson faded away once more into deep slumber.
The birds of dawn awakened him into a world that seemed to be magical. The sounds of the river and the breeze though the bright deciduous forest complemented the faint aroma of the flowers. Crickets, and the oh so faint buzzing of small insects in the air, caressing pollen and dropping it elsewhere. Carson sat up to this vague difference to find a general ache in nearly every part of his body. He felt vigorous but for that feeling like he had slept too long. It was still early, though, because the light was still dim. He got up and began the stretching he had learned years before.
The Cree village bustled with daily routine. Midsummer in paradise meant preparation for a winter that may be rough on the People. Carson collected Mistishin and Tkenika. Wolf Brother found them getting prepared to leave.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
Carson looked at him appreciatively, “I haven't felt this good since I was his age,” he pointed at Mistishin.
“Did I sleep a lot? I was a bit stiff?”
“Oh about five days,” Wolf Brother said, “You woke up to eat and piss, but then you went back to sleep. Seemed like you needed it, and these two were enjoying their stay.”
“The fishing is good here,” agreed Tkenika.
“My nephew and some of the others would like to come and visit my brother's tribe. I would feel better if they went with you.”
“I will make sure they arrive safely,” Lost His Way replied.
Carson took pains to give thanks to Wolf Brother, and the tribe for their hospitality, something he hadn't known for many years except in passing. Then they collected Chuklo and several others and left for the Black River village.
“Ah!” cried Grandmother, “There it is! It shows up before he does, warning us that he comes, haha. Beard! It is good to see you again.”
“Hello Grandmother,” Lost His Way replied, “I missed you.”
“Look at you,” she said, “Our cousins took good care of you.” She patted him on the arm, “And where is my grandson? Ah. You got taller. Good. There you are Mistishin. Next time don't be away so long. Oh! You brought cousins. Come. Come. Let's get you settled in.”
Big Elk strode up to them and greeted everyone, spending time greeting the young cousins, and accepting the gifts they brought. Many of the Black River tribe came up to see the returning members and meet the visitors. Once the formalities were finished, Big Elk came up to TenTaquo.
“You look different,” he said.
“I feel different. Like I just returned home.”
“Good,” nodded the Chief, “Did you see Grandmother? She was afraid you wouldn't want to stay here.”
Carson smiled, “No place I'd rather be.”
That winter was an easy one for the Black River tribe. Food was plentiful and we had an easy time staying warm. Lost His Way turned out to be good at building things, and we constructed a long house just up from the lake big enough to keep everyone in when the wind got really cold.
As promised, Lost His Way and Tkenika and Mistishin took Chuklo and went looking for an ice bear. When they returned, Chuklo was ecstatic about the trip, and the stories got bigger with each telling.
Carson told Big Elk later, “I'm not kidding you, it looked like he and Mistishin were standing on the side of the trees shooting arrows into the bear. They must have hooked their legs on the branches, but from where I was they seemed to just stand on the side of the trees.
“I was the bait. Apparently I smell more than the boys do?”
We all laughed.
“Tkenika finally took him down after we used up most of the arrows. I stayed up in the tree until he said the bear was dead. Wasn't taking any chances.
“We gave most of the meat and bones to the Wide River People, since they helped us carve the bear and carry it, but they gave a big feast for the boys. Chuklo is keeping the skin to show Wolf Brother.”
“So you gave Tkenika the long bow?” Big Elk asked.
Lost His Way shrugged, “He beat me fair and square. I'm a good shot with a bow, but he has real skill.”
And this is the way we lived for two winters. Carson was a part of the Black River People in the year 1880.
In the winter following, Lost His Way participated in a hunt along with Tkenika and some others from our village over at Moose Hill village. A bear had killed the husband of Siamwis. We could find no trace of a bear, though. We concluded that it was not a bear at all, since, as Carson pointed out, there was no kind of bear that could sneak up on Chochoniko. Everyone agreed that he was a very capable hunter. No one could guess why the spirits would take him, but what else could leave bear marks like that on a body, but no signs of a bear on the land?
During this time, quite a few of the young men took women from other villages to live with. Mistichin took Wshensha from Moose Hill. Tkenika took Wetenlat from Rat River. Chuklo took Seeyenna from our village, and Muskwichem took Lelut from Rat River. All gave the village children except Muskwichem and Lelut. Since all of the village could see this happening, it was only natural that people looked at Lost His Way and wondered when he would take a woman. Big Elk knew him better than everyone, and one spring season went to speak to him about it in the white tongue.
“Hey,” he said, “You remember Moose Brother's daughter Siamwis?”
“Yes. I was sorry to hear about her husband.”
“As were we all, brother. As were we all. Listen. Moose Brother is worried about her, so I said I would talk to you about it.”
“Uh- about what?”
“Well I'm just saying, she would make a pretty good wife.”
Carson stopped pretending he was busy when he heard the request. To him it seemed as if the entire village had stopped to listen to his answer.
“Well- I mean-”
“Good,” Big Elk said, “I'm glad you took that so well. I wasn't sure how you would handle it. Some guys get scared when it comes to taking a woman. We'll leave tomorrow to visit Moose Hill.”
But there was that look in Big Elk's eyes. He was up to something. Carson, not entirely sure what had just happened, went to talk with one of the other men, but could only find Wshensha and Seeyenna, and they would only keep going on about how happy they were for him.
At Moose Hill village, they had prepared for a dance and a celebration, as many did in the spring. Big Elk went and greeted Moose Brother, then they brought Lost His Way over to talk with them also.
“Big Elk says you know how to wrestle. Show us, and my daughter can go to your village with you.”
You scandalous bastards, thought Carson. He knew that ordinarily, men would bring gifts for the Chief as a token for stealing away a daughter of the tribe, and he had prepared for this by bringing one of the new yew Long Bows he had made.
“Fine,” he said, “But I'm giving that new bow to Mistishin instead.”
So they set up a space in a clearing outside the tepees. Carson expected to wrestle someone no bigger than any of the human beings he was used to, but when Chuklo's cousin Skwekenla came out, Carson had to be impressed.
“That's the biggest damned Indian I ever seen,” he said to Big Elk in the white tongue.
Skwekenla was about six foot four, and probably eighteen or nineteen stone, whereas Carson was maybe five eleven, and fourteen stone. The village had gathered in a circle around the two. Carson had removed his suspenders and his trademark checkered shirt to reveal dark hair covering most of his thickly muscled torso and arms.
Carson couldn't see many options for charging in and taking the giant man down, but Skwekenla didn't see the need to charge in, and waited to swat the little man away. Lost His Way circled him warily, seeking a point of attack. The crowd raucously yelled encouragement. The moment stretched on, and then Carson finally leaped in, straight at Skwekenla's chest.
He was stopped, and the big man hefted him by his pants and arm and threw him up and over the crowd. They rushed to get out of the way and reform the circle. Carson landed awkwardly, but got up right away and charged again, this time knocking Skwekenla to the ground.
He got Skwekenla's right arm and barred it so that it twisted almost backwards. Skwekenla bared his teeth in pain, but shuffled his torso and was able to slip out of the hold. He threw his other arm straight across Carson's chest as he tried to get up, and knocked him hard to the ground. The bigger man pounced on Carson quickly and tried to pummel him into the dirt, but Carson slipped under him and grabbed hold of an ankle. He pinned the man's other leg with his own and began twisting the ankle. Skwekenla cried out with the pain, and heaved violently. When his other leg freed, he twisted out of the hold, and again pounced on Carson. They rolled in the dirt together trying to gain some leverage and thus, advantage, but neither could.
Finally, Carson slipped out from under Skwekenla and got back to his feet. The other got up as well and they faced off. The bigger man suddenly charged in, but Carson was faster. He grabbed one outstretched arm and twisted it as Skwekenla came at him and, using his weight against him, flipped him on to his back. He tried to come up with the arm between his legs, but could not quite get it, so they rolled around and flipped back and forth more. Carson would not break his grip on that arm, and kept turning it this way and that, so that it bent against its proper range of movement. He kept it up too long, however, and got a solid fist in the face, which knocked him back and he lost his grip. Skwekenla hit him several more times in the ribs and the stomach, and then knocked Carson to the dirt.
The wrestling match went on like this. Back and forth for a very long time they went. Skwekenla began avoiding using his left arm, and it was clear that he was hurt, but Carson, now very tired, was no longer fast enough to rush in and grab it. Instead, he was fading from the repeated hits to his face by Skwekenla's other hand.
Then, when it looked like Carson was about to drop, Skwekenla came at him. Carson slipped under him and went for the legs but, now the other man was wary of this attack and began to slip out of it. He mistook the intent of the attack however, and Carson got a hold of the weak arm. Putting it into some kind of backwards hold, it placed a breaking pressure on Skwekenla's shoulder socket.
The bigger man gave up, yelling, “Eeechin ay! Eechin Ay!” And so Carson let go, and fell back in the dirt breathing very heavily. Cheering for both of them for such a great performance, we helped them up and tended their wounds. Both were very beat up.
After they had rested, Carson went and got the yew Long Bow he had made, and presented it to Skwekenla.
“I have heard of your long bows. I thank you for the gift, but I should be giving the gifts to you- for teaching me how to wrestle,” he laughed.
“It is for reminding me that I always have something new to learn,” said Lost His Way.
The big man nodded, “Then I will call it that. 'Engaho Ta Hota'- 'Always Learning'.”
The tale of that fight carried all the way to north of Bear Lake and back, and Siamwis, although not happy that her new husband was delivered to her beaten up, now had a new place within our village.
Then the time came, the following spring, to decide if a new village was warranted. Big Elk felt that the Black river spot could not hold so many people comfortably. The actual space they lived on was now completely filled with the Longhouse, and tepees, and there was another generation of children coming after the children of Mistishin and Tkenika. They now had to venture quite far to keep supplied with food and clothing. Not only that, but there were enough adults now that petty squabbles sometimes got blown out of proportions, like the time that Sheyansit accused Wshensha of trying to steal her husband while Mistishin was out hunting. Big Elk had to order Sheyansit to stop stirring up trouble, which caused some conflict with him and some others. He reasoned that a smaller group would be easier to manage.
So Tkenika, Mistishin, Chuklo and seven others went looking for another spot to make a village and, naturally, Lost His Way became involved in the discussions about each of the spots they looked at. Desperate Cove was far enough away, and had plenty of sun on it all of the time, but it was called Desperate Cove, and nobody liked that. Sunny Creek was equally good, but needed to be cleared. 'Good Fishing', on the other side of the lake, had plenty of space, but not much sunlight. Siamwis debated the spots with the women, and the men came to Lost His Way to discuss it as well.
Grandmother came up to Lost His Way and Siamwis one day.
“Beard,” she said, “Who is going to look after you all when you go to this new village?” which meant she wanted to know which of the elders would go with them- which meant she wanted to know why they hadn't asked her to come with them yet.
Siamwis teased her, “Well, we asked Grandfather Wechanasit,”
“But he can't hear anymore, and the children don't like to play with him.”
“So we asked Grandmother Seena,”
“Oh did you? And what did she say?”
“She would have told us to go leap out of a canoe, if we had actually asked her,” Carson replied for her.
“Ha!” Grandmother barked, “I bet she would! My sister has very little patience for cheeky women like Siamwis. I'm going to speak to Moose Brother about you, you know.”
“No need for that, Grandmother,” she replied, hugging her, “We didn't think we had to ask.”
“Course not. You wouldn't last a moon without me and you know it! So you've decided on Sunny Creek?”
“Tkenika likes it because its a good spot for ice fishing,” Carson said.
“True,” she agreed, “Always has been. I'll go deliver the bad news to Seena.”
The Sunny Creek village was far enough up from the lake that flooding was not a concern. The creek itself, on the northern edge of the Great Slave Lake, flowed into it around the west side of a rocky ridge that ended abruptly some two hundred paces from the shore. It was at the base of this outcropping, on the east side of the creek, that we built the village. The deciduous trees all around us and on top of the ridge would shield us from winter winds, but we had ready access to the lake. Lost His Way was worried about drainage off of the ridge in the spring, so he set about making small ditches at the base to keep the village from getting too muddy.
The tepees were placed roughly in a ring around a clearing big enough to hold a dance around a fire. On the eastern edge of the tepees, Lost His Way, Chucklo, and some others began construction of a long house, and built a “shed”, as he called it, to store tools and salt and other supplies. The trees kept growing around the edge of the ridge to the lake, which went straight to the east for a few miles before it turned north. We had full sun when it was out from dawn until dusk, shelter from hard winds, easy access to good fishing, and hunting grounds used by very few others.
When we had finished building the village in late summer, and transporting everyone with what supplies Big Elk could afford to give us, we invited people from several other villages to come and visit us for a celebration. People from Rat River, Wide River, Moose Hill, Dangerous Beach, and other places sent people to see our new village, bringing gifts of salted meat, and tools, and winter clothing for the young children. Grandmother, as a Spirit Walker, consecrated the village for us, while Tkenika became the Chief of Sunny Creek.
Life settled into a regular routine then. The men hunting and preparing the meat for storage, or fishing. Women added skins to the tepees, or sewed winter clothing from furs. Children played or helped collect berries, or trap animals, depending on their age. The oldest children had seen their tenth year by this time. Grandmother taught them stories handed down to her, and had them making “magic drums” which Lost His Way found cute, but couldn't listen to for long.
“Those drums may save your life one day,” Grandmother said, but Carson was already gone off to fish.
That winter hit the Slave Lake tribes hard after a short autumn season, and lasted much longer than anyone thought was usual. The preparations we had made kept us going and comfortable, but the many blizzards and extreme cold temperatures meant less hunting and fishing than we would have done. The harsh cold meant that we spent many nights huddling in the long house to conserve warmth. On those nights, Grandmother would tell of the spirit world, and how they would end up as constellations in the night sky. Then she would get Lost His Way to tell about the people from the very distant south.
He would hold everyone entranced with stories about places so hot that people wore almost no clothing. He would explain to them about stone pyramids, and giant crocodiles, and whales, baboons, penguins and sharks; places where it would rain for an entire moon and other places where it never rained at all and nothing lived. He told them about other “human beings' like the Cheyenne, and the Sioux, or Caribs, Aztlans, Uraqui and Yaqui. In this way the Sunny Creek people not only survived, but flourished, enriched by this lost KwalAten.
Spring came, as it must, and the men all went to see that Carson's drainage ditches worked very well.
“See all that water?” he asked them. The ridge indeed drained a great deal of water toward the lake. Ordinarily it would have fed the mass of trees where they now stood. The great mats of moss that puffed out on the rock could not hold back all of the water coming down from the ridge top.
“We would have been slipping and sliding all through the village,” said Chucklo. Everybody agreed, as they could see the rivulet heading out to the lake in the ditch.
Later, Grandmother came up to Lost His Way.
“Beard, what did Mistishin say when you talked to him?”
“About his hunting trip?”
“He didn't think it was anything to fuss about, but I told him otherwise.”
“He has done that for many years,” she said, “But this time he was gone so long. I don't want him to go hunting by himself anymore. I spoke to Tkenika about this as well.”
“I will see to it,” Carson agreed, “What does Wshensha say about the house we built for her?” He referred to the square house made of wooden planks, with a deck and wooden furniture that the men had constructed for her and Mistishin.
“Oh she is very impressed,” Grandmother replied, “Myself, I don't see the improvement over a tepee, or a long house, but...” she let the thought hang.
“To tell you the truth,” he said, “Neither do I.”
“Well what if you want to move? What then?” she said.
On one particular day, when the sun was late in the sky, the boys had trapped him again outside of his tepee. Siamwis, who still had shine in her black hair and her deep brown eyes, and no creases on her round face but for those that come from smiling, came out and told the boys to leave him alone. Then she sent them off to find weecha berries, and stull’n roots so they could make mosquito repellent for the summer. That spring was very sunny, and warm. The beaver had come out, the wilcha trees had exploded in green leaves, and the fox was again hunting food for pups.
“Grandmother said the summer would be hot, and the hunting good,” she said when the boys had cleared off. It was her way of saying that everyone was happy. Now that the morning air wasn’t so crisp, but warm and gentle, Siamwis was saying to her husband that the village was going to prosper, thanks to his hard work. For a pure moment, they shared the warm feeling with their eyes.
“My old bow broke,” Lost His Way said finally, “I am going out to make a new one.”
But just then Mistishin stormed out of his wooden house and walked across the village.
He was cursing and swearing fiercely. He would turn and point, sometimes at nobody, and keep swearing, but once he pointed at TenTaquo. Then he walked over to the big shed that we built the year before and tried to get inside, but he was so mad that he fumbled with the latch. It made him even madder and he screamed at the shed. Finally he got inside and slammed the door.
Siamwis looked at Lost His Way, but he just shrugged. She went to Mistishin’s log house to see what happened. When she pushed the door open, W’shensha was working away, cleaning like nothing happened. She didn’t even notice that someone had come in.
“W’shensha. Mistishin just went swearing at the village, and locked himself in the shed.”
“Where is your daughter?” she asked, now worried, “SumChenla? Come to Auntie.” The little one crawled out from under the bed. She had maybe six years, and was named Talks Too Much, so when she didn’t talk at all, Siamwis could tell she was scared. She just walked over and put up her hands for “uppies”. W’shensha didn’t say anything, but just kept cleaning quietly.
“W’shensha, I’m taking her over to play with the others. I’ll be right back.” Then she left. Lost His Way was waiting for her.
“There is something wrong,” she told him.
“Is he hitting them?”
“No,” she replied, “If they were fighting, W’shensha would cry, and tell me what they were fighting about, but she’s all wukooshen, like that deer you shot last season. I’m going to get Grandmother. You go get the men, in case Mistishin gets worse.”
This, he went to do.
Grandmother was the first person he saw. She was getting hunched with age, but still moved about with some speed. This day she had her long silver hair tied back, so they didn’t cover her sharp eyes. She leaned on her wooden stick and looked up at Lost His Way.
“Beard,” she said, “You look worried.”
“Grandmother,” he replied in our language, “Something is wrong with Mistishin and W’shensha. Siamwis took the little one away, and she is looking for you.” He then told the Grandmother what they had seen earlier. She became very serious, and began to sound younger to him, so that when she gave him orders, he did not argue, or pretend he was more important.
She said, “Don’t tell the men anything until I hear what happened, but do like your wife says. Go now.”
Lost His Way did as she told him to, rousing the men, and telling them to go over to Mistishin’s place. Then he met up with them around Mistishin’s house. They were talking about how W’shensha was just doing nothing, and that nothing seemed to be wrong. Lost His Way told them to keep quiet. Grandmother came out shortly after.
“You men come with me,” she said, “We have to talk with Mistishin.” So they went with her to the shed. “Carson, you and some others hold the door while I talk to him. Don’t let him out, no matter what.” They did as they were told, and the Grandmother talked through the door.
“Mistishin, its Grandmother. Mistishin.”
“I know why you’re here,” he sobbed from inside.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” Grandmother said, “Maybe there is something we can do.”
But another voice answered then, laughing crazy-like, “Do? Hahahaha. There’s nothing to do. When this one falls asleep tonight, I shall awaken. Then Grandmother, then I will show you what to do.” The voice laughed again, quick and shrill. “Did you think you could simply adopt a KwalAtin? That there could be peace? I will feast on your heart’s blood for your treachery!”
“Who are you? What do you want here?” she demanded.
Again the laugh, but barking and angry, “I am the eagle’s talon, and the wolf’s fangs. I am the bite of winter. I am a blight of mad crow. I am death, coming for you.”
“Let me talk to Mistishin!” Grandmother said.
“Grandmother,” wailed Mistishin from inside the shed. He started weeping, “Tell W’shensha she was a good wife. Don’t let him harm Sumchenla. I don’t want to die, Grandmother.” He started crying again.
“Mistishin. Tell me what happened. Come! Tell me what is wrong.”
There was a big pause, “It’s a Wendigo.”
The men gasped. Grandmother pursed her lips.
“During the winter, when I was out hunting. I was starving, I- It came to me the other night, but I told it to go away, and I thought it did, but it came back stronger, and it wouldn’t leave. I fought with it all yesterday and all night, but it hates, Grandmother, it hates so much. I- I got tired this morning, and it told W’shensha that it was going to kill and eat Sumchenla, and it said things, things; I don’t even know what they mean!”
“Don’t worry about that, my son. Now listen, tell the Wendigo that you are no woman. Tell him you are Mistishin, which means Doesn’t Take Orders. Tell the Wendigo that you are going to hold him while we kill it.”
“Okay,” he replied, “Tell Lost His Way, tell him not to let me hurt my family if I fail.”
“You hold on, in there, brother,” Lost His Way said. Grandmother took Lost His Way by the arm and led him away, instructing the others to guard the door. They walked back to Mistishin’s house.
“Grandmother, what is going on? What is a Wendigo? Why is he acting like this?”
“Shush!” she said, “It is a demon that eats people. When I was a little girl was the last time I ever heard of one.” She pursed her lips, “Do you have your axe?”
“Yes. Why?” he asked. Several of the other men had left the shed to confer with them.
“We have to kill Mistishin. T’Kenika, tell the women to get the children into their special cloaks, and get out the magic drums. Return swiftly.”
“What? Wait a minute. What do you mean we have to kill him? Are you sure he isn’t just sick?” Lost His Way said. He looked at the other men, but they knew that Grandmother was right.
“No Brother, he is not sick. This is not like the lake fever,” said T’kenika, who everybody said thought about things too much.
“Remember, Mistishin is my brother also. Our kids play together. I hunt with him, and we visit often, but now you must trust Grandmother in this matter. There is no other way.”
He looked at Grandmother, “Mistishin was hunting far from the village this winter. He must have run out of food.” Then he ran off to do as he was told.
Lost His Way did not look convinced, “What does he mean?”
“The Wendigo is not some story to frighten the children,” Grandmother said, “It is something that happens from time to time, usually to warn people of terrible choices they are making, or might make. That is the spirits’ business. This spirit has a terrible thirst for people, and they are very strong. If a hunter is starving, the spirit may possess him and make him eat another person. After that the spirit stays, and continues to hunger for flesh.
“The one that my grandfather told about possessed a very meek man, among the Cree. Once possessed, he killed his own family, and then killed everyone in the village. When he was done there, he snuck into another village and started killing people there too, before the warriors got together and shot him with arrows. They said it took over ten arrows to kill him, and he died from bleeding, even then. But they didn’t burn him, and by that night, another man, one of the warriors that shot the first man, started killing people. They found him trying to eat the body of his wife.
“Carson,” she said, using his KwalAten name, “Wshensha said that Mistishin started talking in your tongue. Did he learn that from you?”
Lost His Way shook his head. He was just a soldier, a white soldier, and such things made no sense to him. Grandmother patted him on the arm.
“Spirits,” she nodded, “Beware. It will say things that are meant to scare you, and make you hesitate. Go get your axe. Night is coming.”
TenTaquo was strong, but he wasn’t a big man. Mistishin was bigger than Lost His Way, but not stronger. The men hoped that the Wendigo would not lend him any strength.
He arrived back at the shed with the axe. Mistishin started yelling in the white tongue.
“Carson! Carson! Did you think I would let you? Did you really think,” it screamed, “That I would let you mix with the savage’s blood! Have children with them? Should I tell them why you left Detroit?” then the barking, staccato laugh.
“Do you remember Toronto? In the alley? You were so helpless after all of those fools. I would have beaten you senseless but that ugly Polish whore you were fucking put a glamour on you. Remember? I fainted when I tried to hit you. I found her and paid her a visit after ward. Carson. Varnished the floor with her blood. Ha!
“I'll give you this much, Carson,” it yelled, “Hiding among the People was a good move. It was smart. Smart but futile. After I'm done with this Spirit Whore, I'm going to kill you. Goodbye Carson.”
“What is he saying?” the men asked?
Lost His Way took a moment to compose himself, and replied, “He said that if we don’t kill him, he is going to kill us and our children.”
“That’s right!” yelled the Wendigo, shifting back to the People’s language “You better kill me, or I am going to kill you. I’ll find your children. I’ll find them and eat them.” The barking laughter again.
“Beard. Give the axe to Chucklo.” Grandmother said, “You stay out here. The others will hold the demon down while Chucklo hits him on the head. That way, if they fail, there will still be someone strong to stop him.”
Lost His Way told me much later that it was the craziest thing he had ever heard in his life, but at the time he couldn’t think of a reason to disagree with her. I think she was more worried that the demon would possess Lost His Way, which would mean that no one could stop it. Grandmother walked off about as fast as she was able, and left the men to the killing. Lost His Way gave the axe to Chucklo, who was now almost as white as snow, but was not the kind of person to run away.
Daylight was fading. The shed went quiet. In that awful twilight silence the men looked at each other, realizing how crazy the situation was, and how they couldn’t get out of it, how they needed each others’ support to go through with it, and how afraid they were to confront the demon. They realized that it was their brother who was yelling threats at them, but that it was a demon using his voice; it was the demon they had to kill, but it was their brother who would really die. In that deadly silence, the men nodded the encouragement at each other, but made no move. The silent moment stretched on uncomfortably. Finally, Lost His Way broke the hesitant magic by backing up and taking a position in case the men failed. The others broke for the shed door and opened it to find Mistishin floating some four feet above the ground. They gasped, and then crowded into the shed, closing the door behind them.
“Get him down,” called Chucklo.
“Grab his leg,”
“I can’t keep hold of him!”
“You’re in the way!”
The awful barking chuckle of the demon.
“Hahaha! I’m going to eat your woman, Chucklo.”
“Okay I got him, Do it!”
“Wait! I’m slipping, I-“
The sounds of smacking flesh erupted. Grunts of effort and getting struck. And then screams. Items fell off the shelves, clanging. The walls bowed outward as men slammed into them. More screams. And then silence, a momentary deadly swallowing silence.
Lost His Way danced from foot to foot in readiness, keeping his hands loose, his eyes on the door, but the Wendigo came through the shed wall, storming straight for him. He let the monster charge into him, and allowed the momentum carry the beast right over him so that they completely rolled two, then three times in the dirt between the tepees. He rolled on top of the Wendigo and brought his elbow down hard on its jaw. He immediately came up, and back down again, stunning the demon, and nearly driving its head into the ground. Its eyes glazed over, but it was not finished.
It swept an arm, catching Lost His Way in the shoulder, but such was the force that he was knocked right off, and rolled several times before he came to his feet. The Wendigo also came to its feet. Lost His Way was on him already, charging, and slamming into the beast’s torso like a bull. Mistishin laughed, but TenTaquo picked him off of the ground, ran several steps and then slammed him hard on his back and head in front of Mistishin’s log house. Somehow he straddled the beast and again brought his elbow down hard on its head. Once, twice, then again, until a leg thrown up pitched him off.
He scrambled to his feet, but the Wendigo was faster this time. He grabbed Lost His Way and, using all of his weight and leverage, pitched him into the air and on to the deck he had built for Mistishin’s log house. He hit the wall hard, but quickly regained his feet. The Wendigo was on him again, eyes glowing red, throwing wild punches that surely would have killed him had they landed. Lost His Way ducked and swayed and struck back with skill forged in experience. The Wendigo grabbed him and shoved him brutally into the cabin, following him in. Lost His Way couldn’t keep his footing. He was being thrown about like a child’s doll, but he contrived, after striking the wall a number of times, to come about near the door. The Wendigo obliged by kicking him clear back into the dirt.
It gave him a nasty knock on the head, and he lost track of where he was. He wobbled feebly on his hands and knees. The monster walked up to him and kicked him in the chest, knocking into the air and on to his back.
TenTaquo was still reeling from the knock on his head, but he tried to get up. The Wendigo came at him with fists clenched, planting each step as if it were the last.
“Haahhh,” it purred, “Now Carson, lets have a look for the little ones, shall we? I'll kill the People, and then eat the babies. If tonight is a good haul, maybe I'll let you lead me to another healthy tribe, eh?”
The words barely registered through the fog and dizziness. Somewhere in the background a faint chanting had begun.
“Leave my son alone,” Grandmother said to it. She stood across the fire pit from the beast, her white hair pulled back and tied, her face painted for war.
“At last,” he said, “I knew my pet would lead me to you eventually. His kind make such good servants.”
“They will destroy you, you know,” It went on, “And We will show them the way. Tonight is only the first step.”
“The power you fear cannot be denied,” she replied.
“You are old, and frail.”
“You talk too much.” She began to chant, and dance in place.
The beast walked toward Grandmother, but fell backward as if hit. Snarling, he got back up and swung both fists as if at a wall. Grandmother fell backward suddenly, but quickly got back up and continued chanting and dancing. Now the chant could be heard all around her, loud and demanding.
“AyAAA ayah ayAheyy. AyAAAA ayah ayAheyyy.”
The demon struggled to move, now confined in all directions. It raged at her, screaming incoherently. Grandmother's eyes now projected a pure white light as she danced and sang the song of power. Abruptly she lifted one knee up to her chest and slammed her foot to the ground. A deafening crack of thunder ruptured the air within the camp. The demon put its hands to its head and screamed in agony. Grandmother flung her arms wide, and brought her hands together with a thunderous smack. The clapping sound split the night and a massive bolt of lightning struck the demon where it was confined, and scorched it black.
Death did not come for it however. It smoked rancidly in its spot, and glared through glowing red eyes at her. In a savage motion, it flung both arms wide and broke the confining barrier. It stood then as Grandmother picked herself off of her back and dusted the dirt off.
The Wendigo began to taunt her again, but she cut it off,
“You, clearly,” she rasped in the KwalAten tongue, “Do NOT know who you are fucking with!” and with a wide sweep of her arms, then brought her hands together. The massive bolt of lightning from the sky again struck the demon, making him writhe in agony where he stood and burned. When it was over, Mistichin's burnt and smoking body was completely hidden by the demon in his true form.
The drumming and wailing struck back up from the edges of the village, pounding the beast with enchanting containment. It roared at the unseen children.
“Enough! When I am through with your weakling spirit witch, I will eat you all!” and then it turned back to Grandmother.
“And now for you,” it said, its eyes steaming red hatred at her.
Lost His Way responded to the chanting automatically. He picked himself up off the ground and stood there examining his hands. It felt as if they were burning. Could he see steam rising off of them?
Lightening blasted something off to his right, but he felt nothing from it. The chanting demand held him as if in preparation. Something in the back of his mind said he must not attack, but only defend. When the drumming began, he looked over to see the Manitou, a red-eyed demon in billowing black robes of silk trimmed in blood red. A rotten and pitted parody of antlers sprouted from the head of the beast. It was preparing to charge Grandmother.
Moving like a thought, he then stood in between them. His left hand glowing gold, he lifted the creature by the neck, and with his right fist glowing silver he struck it square in the chest, flinging it back over the fire pit into the dirt. It charged again, and he struck it back to the ground. Again it charged, and again he struck it back to the ground.
It stood again, ready to charge, but a great wound opened across its chest, and it stood fixed in agony. It looked up at Grandmother, stunned and incredulous that an old woman could have struck it so mortally.
Ten Taquo turned to look at her, finding a beautiful young woman glowing with power, holding a black-bladed axe of terrible hunger, and holding the beast’s gaze mercilessly. Her voice new young and strong, and without pity, she spoke to it,
“The power you fear cannot be denied.” She whipped the axe and struck it again.
A second rent in its being opened up across the first, and the beast staggered as if stabbed in the midriff, finally falling into the fire pit. Grandmother tossed a blue flame into the pit and it exploded into a massive pyre. Now too weak to cry out, the demon simply faded into the oily black smoke of the burning body.
The young, angelic woman in war paint regarded Carson fiercely before fading into the little old lady he had come to know. For a second, he thought he could see a small crowd of Spirit Walkers, including the old Uraqui wizard, fading away behind her.
“We must remain until Mistishin’s body is completely destroyed, and then you may depart,” Grandmother said to him. They stood together silently in vigil for the lost son.
In the morning the Sunny Creek People had visitors who had witnessed the lightening from afar. While Lost His Way slept, Grandmother and the others welcomed them, and explained what had happened to poor Mistishin. Carson said very little to anyone until nearly a week later, when more visitors arrived from Rat River. Crow Elder and Wolf Brother, along with Big Elk had come to see Carson, and celebrate the life of Mistishin.
“Yes, we will celebrate my son Mistishin,” Grandmother said when Carson asked, “Think about it: So many men would have just fallen before the will of that Manitou. It is a very powerful spirit. But Mistishin fought it bravely.” She looked gravely at Lost His Way.
“We could not have destroyed it if it were not for his resistance.” Carson nodded his agreement, and recalled the cheerful strength of his good friend.
Crow Elder looked him up and down, “See? The People take good care of you, and you protect, eh?”
“Can't say I understood what happened,” Carson admitted.
“The spirit picked you for a reason,” said Wolf Brother, “The Elders saw you right away, and knew what was coming
“Picked the wrong KwalAten, though, eh?” Crow Elder joked, “That's why Manitous don't hang out among the People. Because some of us still know what to do about them. Like Eagle Watching. Some spirits aren't very wise, eh sister?”
The old woman held up her fists, “Meet Thunder, and Lightening,” she quipped to everyone’s amusement.
“It picked that fight long ago, and used you, my son, to lead it to me,” she continued, “It tried to beat you up a lot so that you wouldn't fight when it was important, but it did not understand where your strength comes from. The People see it plainly.”
“I think I understand,” Carson said.
“Come,” said Crow Elder, “I brought a pipe. We will smoke to your new name.”
“My new name?”
“Yes,” Grandmother said, “We have decided to call you 'Kanadawey Nukoots', or 'Makes His Home Here'.”
Now it is whole ages later. The Etchaotinne people have disappeared, having been swept away by the Cree long ago. I have remained in the spot where Carson placed my ashes and my brother Tkenika carved my face in the rock, lending peace and strength to those who happen to camp here. The spirits of the damned know well to avoid me.
The others have been laid to rest. Their service done. Before he passed away, Carson visited me many times, and he would always say as he left that the People were his strength. I remain to preserve his story. Perhaps his spirit lives on elsewhere too.