© 1977, 2001 Kae Cheatham
Electronic editions with all illustrations, expanded history notes and references: KINDLE and NOOK
From Chapter 2
"I'm tired!" Spotted Flower complained to her friends. "It seems we've been walking for the whole day!"
"You stayed up too late last night," Walking Moon suggested.
Spotted Flower knew her friend was right. After the long hours she had spent helping her mother cut the new grain pouches, an uncle had brought his family over for dinner. They enjoyed the roasted deer and wild turnips, then her uncle began telling about his latest hunting adventure. That lasted late into the night.
"There's a string of hills over there," Little Bird pointed toward the small mounds in front of them. "After we look there we can go back."
"I'm too tired, Little Bird. I'm going back now. The shadows are already stretching toward the mountains. My mother will be worried."
"I have to find the dog and pups!"
"I'll go with you," Walking Moon said. "Go on back, Spotted Flower. We'll be there before the evening meal." Her friends started toward the hills.
Spotted Flower sighed heavily as she turned back toward the village. The day had become hot. She walked slowly past one of the many steep-walled, dry creek beds that creased the plains. The coulees were filled with brush and occasionally with young cottonwood trees. She crossed a small creek and sipped some water, and then trudged on. At the next coulee Spotted Flower heard a faint sound.
Maybe it's Little Bird's dog, she thought. She tossed a small stone into the brush and listened. A rabbit jump through the shrubs, and then a prairie chicken cocked its head. No dogs here, she decided, but she moved down the slope to see the bird's nest.
The shade from the young trees brought immediate coolness to Spotted Flower. She slid quietly across the stubble to where the coulee leveled out. The ground was covered with soft moss that had grown after the spring rains. Spotted Flower sighed with contentment at the comfortable place she had found. She sat very still, and after a few moments the prairie chicken fluttered its wings and exposed a small nest of three young birds.
Well, Spotted Flower thought, I found some babies, but not the kind I was looking for.
She watched the little birds, then a butterfly. Then she listened to the cottonwood leaves click in the breeze. She thought of Little Bird and Comes-From-Behind, and wondered when someone would play the flute for her. She dreamed of a handsome young man with long shining hair. He would be a good warrior and an even better hunter. He would be a runner—maybe the best runner of all the tribes! And their marriage would be a glorious thing. Her own lodge painted by her mother in beautiful colors and then set up on the day of her choosing in the center of camp. She would wear a dress of the finest, soft deer skin with a wide yoke of quill work in reds and yellow, and an elk tooth from every fringe. Her husband would be magnificent in a feather cape like those the northern tribes wore, leggings with heavy fringe, and a neckpiece of weasel tails—many weasel tails, for he would be a brave and generous person. It was a good dream.
Spotted Flower jolted up. Her dream had turned into sleep, and now the coulee was covered in darkness. Her heart pounded as she pulled her slight body through the dense underbrush and to the top of the coulee. The sun glowed orange just above the ragged peaks of the mountains, and the sky was bleached and pale. Spotted Flower began to run.
"They will be wondering for me," she whispered. "I shouldn't have gone out today."
Even in the growing darkness, Spotted Flower knew she was on the right path. The ground was hard from the many buffalo that had passed on their way from the winter ranges near the mountains to the open plains of the Elk River valley. Villages had been set near that broad road since before memory. Runners, sent out to find the buffalo, would chase the animals toward certain cliff areas—piskuns.
Spotted Flower kept up her quick stride, and remembered the last drive to the piskun not far south. She and her mother were at the broad opening of the human funnel that led to the bluffs. Only adults stood along that important and dangerous route. If the buffalo detected that something was wrong, they would scatter and trample everyone in their escape. That she had been there with her mother, was another sign of her growing up.
But they didn't sense us, she remembered. We rose swiftly with our robes and noisemakers to keep the buffalo on the path to the cliffs.
Spotted Flower's father had waited with the other men at the base of the bluffs. They had formed a huge circle and from there they threw their lances and shot arrows into the buffalo that did not die from the fall. Her father's arrows always struck many animals. That was why he was always one of the leaders for the hunt. That was why his name was Many Robes.
Spotted Flower stumbled a bit and the urgency of her running continued. How foolish I was to sleep! she thought. How stupid not to stay with the others! I should have known better. My little brothers will never let me forget my carelessness.
Wind gusted against her cheeks. Stars began to appear in the gray-black sky.
It's strange no one has come to look for me, she thought. Little Bird and Walking Moon would have told them where we were. If someone had called to me I certainly would have heard them.
Her steps slowed as she caught the scent of a fire. She stopped and looked ahead, and could see the small flicker on the night sky beyond that hill. She started to climb the rise, but stopped, knowing something was wrong. Her heart slammed into her chest. She flattened herself to the grass and crawled to the top of the rise. Her ears strained for the sounds of children, but heard only the deep talk and laughter of men.
They've gone! Distress filled her as she thought. It's not my village! No dogs, no children. She listened again. No women! She forced herself to look over the crest.
Below, three fires glinted near the river's edge. Men were talking and cooking, joking with each other as they moved about. Their language was strange to her, but their appearance was familiar: the dark red of their breechclouts showed they were from land south of the Elk River. Their hair was smooth and braided tightly. There was no top braid or loose flowing hair.
They are Snake! she realized. Shoshoni! Enemy of my people!
Spotted Flower tightened with fear and anger as the men laughed and ate in the place where her village and family should be. She watched them carefully, then something caught her eye. Her heart beat faster and tears sprang to her eyes. In an arc of firelight, she saw Little Bird and Walking Moon tied to a tree. Wide leather bands had been placed over their mouths.
Spotted Flower clutched the handle of her stone knife. I would sooner die than be taken to a Snake village as a sister, she gasped. Or even worse, as a wife!
She studied the camp, dismayed that the only two ways to get to her friends were to go through the camp, or to approach from the water side. She shook her head, shocked that she could do nothing.
One of the men laughed and tossed a bone he had been eating from toward the rise where she crouched. Spotted Flower ducked down. If she wasn't careful, she would be caught, too. She eased her way across the side of the hill to a snarl of trees and thickets. I will hide here until they leave, she decided. Then I will look for my people.
She tried not to grieve for her friends. She knew Little Bird's two brothers and Walking Moon's three grown uncles would be angry—and Comes-From-Behind. He will not let Little Bird stay a slave of the Snake! she thought.
Her chest ached with misery as she settled her small frame against a tree trunk and let the brambles crowd protectively around her. Silent tears warmed her skirt. She imagined her family and their hasty departure from the village site with all their belongings bouncing along on the dog pulls. She knew they might follow the water for a while and head into the mountains. That direction was bumpy. Clay pots would be broken by the jostling. Babies, deep in blankets on their mothers' backs, would be afraid to cry.
My father would be one of the first to arm himself, she thought. And her mind could see the men following behind the silent, scattering village. There must have been good medicine in our camp that kept the Shoshoni lances from my people, she decided. Perhaps a child playing on a hill saw them in the distance and called the warning. But the Snake would have to be close to be recognized-close enough to make an attack before the village could be packed. A runner must have come from the Pikuni camp and warned them of the danger. Well, the village is not far off, she decided. They have only gone distance enough to set up a good defense. The Kainah bow has always thrown the stronger arrow.
The warm odor of an animal suddenly came to her, and she lifted her head slowly to let in a new sound: a low chuckling, a blowing. Something was near her. She peered through the vines and her eyes sorted the familiar from the new. There! Her throat tightened. A huge head loomed just three strides beyond her hiding place. It was almost on the ground, with huge nostrils. When it pulled at the grass, she saw big wide teeth at the end of its long face. The jaw was large and strong, and she could make out round dark eyes. Her fear made her want to jump up and run, but she was too astounded to move.
It doesn't see me, she finally realized. It's eating grass, like a buffalo. Spotted Flower didn't even breathe for fear the beast would notice her. It doesn't even smell me!
The head came closer as the animal cropped the grass. Then it jerked its huge head above the thickets. The dark shadow of its back looked much like that of an elk, and it walked on thin, hoofed legs. A single toe.
Spotted Flower drew herself more against the tree when she heard a man walking. He passed her hiding place and went to the beast, speaking in quiet tones. The beast made a deep sound in its neck.
A spirit power! Spotted Flower tried to control her trembling. She knew that some animals could have magic. She also know that the spirit of animals, or even humans, could come back from the dead in strange forms. The Snake have a new spirit power, she thought. Her eyes were dry with fright. They will find me here. I must run! But she knew that was useless. She remained rigid, too scared even to cry...