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The Book of Ruth



Chapter One



Chapter 1

Spring 1860

 The sun shone brightly for the first time in weeks.  As the last of winter’s snow melted into the ground, spots of brown ugliness speckled the landscape like the hide of a pinto.  The world looked dreary and dead.  These were the days when I wish I had stayed in bed.  I heaved a sigh as Grandfather’s words raced through my mind, reminding me that this moment was the greatest miracle of nature.  From this death came the birth of spring.

 Pictures of the coming spring flashed behind my eyes and brought a smile to my lips.  I could already picture the green grasses spreading out as far as the eye could see.  This perfect green would be marred only by splashes of color painted by the wildflowers of spring.  It was my favorite time of year.  The world was fresh and new; rains constantly washed the earth clean and helped everything grow; every creature was followed by its young.  I loved everything about spring, but the flowers were my secret passion.  I would spend hours hiding amongst the tall grasses and watching the flowers.  I liked to weave them into wreaths for my mother, my horse, my dogs…anyone who had the misfortune to be around when I was bespelled by nature.


 A voice calling my name shattered my musings of my brothers with flowers in their hair, and I returned to the dull brown and white world that surrounded me.  I nudged Wind Dancer to move forward toward camp.  I was wishing I could have stayed in my dream.  Reality was just too depressing; well, not completely—the sun was out.


 So much for sneaking back into camp.  I searched for the owner of the voice, and then wished I hadn’t bothered as our eyes met.  Now, I had to talk to him.

He strode confidently with the grace of a seasoned warrior.  White streaked through his raven black hair, and lines creased the skin around eyes and mouth.  One would never guess it to look at him right now, but those lines were actually the result of years filled with laughter.  Stepping Wolf was one of the most respected men in the camp for his wisdom and patience.  Somehow, though, that famous patience was never around in situations that pertained to me.

 My brothers lined up on either side of me ready to defend my cause.  We were seven strong and ready to battle our adversary.  Little Feather, Dream Weaver, and Night Seer lined up to my right; Laughing Wolf, Running Deer, and Fighting Cricket lined up to my left.  As I faced the man storming toward us, I felt my pulse speed up with a growing sense of trepidation.  It was happening again, and I was tired of it.  I could already hear the voice go through my head.  Skywalker, where have you been? What were you doing?

 He was barely within speaking distance when he began, “Skywalker, where have you…”

 Damn, I’m smart.  I decided to jump the gun and interrupted him saying, “I was hunting with my brothers.  I flew across the plain on Wind Dancer in search of prey.  He walked as silently as the most skilled brave as we closed in on a great buck.  I notched my arrow and pulled back with true aim as my brothers have taught me.  The arrow sang its death song as it found its home the heart.  I dipped my hand in the blood and thanked the spirit for dying so that we might live.”

 During the telling of the hunt, the anger in his eyes slowly faded to be replaced with pride.  I looked around me and saw that pride reflect in the eyes of my brothers.  It warmed my heart and my face.  I ducked my head to hide the blush creeping across my face.  That gesture reminded him of something and brought the anger back to the front.

 “Go see your mother.  We will continue this later.”

 Glad for the reprieve, I turned towards home.  He motioned for the boys to stay put.  His voice floated to me on the breeze, “What were you all thinking?  That was reckless…careless…stop encouraging…”  I could picture the boys’ reaction.  They would be pretending to look contrite while trying not to laugh.  They got this lecture a lot and had learned to tune him out until he ran out of breath and left.  Yep, my father was a little overprotective.

 My mother was sitting by the fire sorting herbs.  She was one of the camp healers and had been teaching me her art for as long as I can remember.  Her hair had more white in it than Father’s and was bound back by a slender strip of leather.  She would always jokingly tell me that my father and I had given her everyone one of those gray hairs.  Spotted Owl always had to smooth things between my father and me.  It always upset her to see us argue, but he just couldn’t seem to understand my need for freedom.  I often gave into to father just so I could see her smile again.  She had enough worries that I didn’t need to add to.

 I plopped down on a fur next to her and complained, “Why does he always have to do this to me?”

 Mother smiled and replied, “It’s because he loves you.  It would break his heart if anything happened to you.”

 “I know,” I mumbled, “but the guys always laugh at me.  They say he worries like a woman.”

 “When they are fathers, they will worry, too.”

 “How come Fighting Cricket gets to go with the men?  He’s six summers younger than I am, and his father lets him go.  Besides, on a bad day, I can shoot and ride better than he does.  The men know this and respect me for it.  They like having me on the hunt and treat me as an equal, or at least my friends do.  All father wants is for me act like all those other nitwits in camp and catch a husband.  I don’t even want one!  I’m never getting married.”

 “Someday, you will meet a man who will change all of those thoughts.  Until then, don’t let anyone hurry you into something you’re not ready for.  Will you hand me the willow bark?”

 As I placed it in her hand, I asked, “Are we going to begin lessons?”

 “Daughter,” she said, her hand reaching out to cup my cheek, “I have taught you everything I know.  There are no more lessons.  You are ready.”

 “But there is so much I don’t know.  What if I make mistakes?  I can’t be ready yet.”

 “I would not say you were ready if I didn’t feel that you were.  I have watched over your healings for a long time now, and you have the heart and skill of a great healer.  You have nothing to worry about.”

 Tears formed in my eyes as I hugged the dearest woman in the world.  “Now, get back to work,” she said with a smile.  We worked in silent harmony as we sorted herbs and took stock of how many we had left until new herbs grew with the coming spring.

After I was done with the chores, I went in search of Fa Ling.  He lived on the edge of camp, because most of the people were afraid of him.  He wasn’t Lakota, but he wasn’t white either; we weren’t quite sure what he was or where he had come from.  Father had found him wandering through the mountains, lost.  Fa Ling didn’t understand our tongue, and he didn’t understand the few Lakota that spoke the white man’s tongue, either.  The council allowed him to stay; he was too crazy to be of harm.

I was nine summers old when Fa Ling came to live among our people.  A visitor from a tribe down south attacked me that summer.  He thought I was a slave and wanted to take me home for his son.  Next thing I knew, Fa Ling was there, hands and feet flying.  When the dust settled, he was the only one left standing.  Gathering me in his arms, he took me back to my father’s tent. The visitor was sent from camp and never allowed to return.

Fa Ling and I became best friends after that.  I followed him everywhere and learned anything he would teach me.  I learned his tongue and discovered that he came from a land across the ocean.  I’m still not quite sure what an ocean is, but it sounds like a lot of water.  He said that he had been taken from his land by white men and brought here to work.  One day, he escaped and tried to find his way home, but he got lost.  That was when my father found him and brought him here.  He also told me many wonderful stories of his home.

The best I could figure out was that he some sort of shaman for his people.  Fa Ling taught me his medicine and how certain points on the body could affect other areas of the body.  I also learned to use my hands and feet to protect myself.  He taught me that anything around me could be used as a weapon.

I readjusted the deer meat I had slung over my shoulder as I approached Fa Ling’s tent.  All of the sudden, I sensed a movement to my right.  Dropping the meat, I turned and raised my arm in a block.  I followed this with a kick to my assailant’s side.  Fighting ensued until I had him on the ground in a headlock.

“Very good,” he rasped against my arm.  I released Fa Ling and helped him up.

“I brought you some meat from the hunt,” I said.

“Bring it inside.”

Ducking under the flap, I carried it inside and placed it on a board that rested on two logs.  I loved being in here.  The air was filled with the smell of herbs that hung from the poles of the tent.  There were stacks of weapons that he had fashioned and taught me to use.  A pile of furs was his bed.  The smoke from the fire drifted out of the hole at the top of the tent.  A pot of water simmered over the fire.

“Tea again?  Do you do this to punish me,” I asked.

“It is good for you,” he answered stubbornly.

“Yeah, well so is an arrow through my heart,” I sassed back.  We enjoyed giving each other a hard time.

“Humor an old man,” he sighed.  I hated to admit it, but his hair had whitened a lot since coming to live with us.  His face looked older and more tired somehow.  I relieved to find youthful humor mingling with ages of wisdom in his strangely slanted black eyes.
“I seem to have that effect on people,” I quipped.  “My parents used to be young, too.  And then they met me.”

“Drink your tea and be quiet,” he said, handing me a cup.

After taking a sip, I began working on the meat.  Some of it would be cooked for dinner tonight, and the rest would be dried for later.

“The council meets tonight,” he said behind me.

“How did you know,” I asked.  “Father didn’t mention anything about it.”

“I spoke with you father.  He said the meeting is to discuss white raids on other Lakota camps.  They claim to be liberating white captives.”

“If that’s all, then we have nothing to worry about.  We don’t have any white captives.”

A funny look crossed his face.  I was going to ask what was wrong when he changed the subject.

“Laughing Wolf has asked for your hand.”

“He what?!?”  Thoughts raced through my mind.  “He can’t do that.  He’s my brother.”

“You know he’s not really your brother.  You are the only child of Stepping Wolf and Spotted Owl.  His father is also a councilman, like yours.  He has every right to ask for your hand.”

“But he is my brother.  The six of us have a blood pact,” I cried, showing him the scar on my hand.  “I won’t marry him!”
Fa Ling traced the scar on my hand.  “When did you all make this pact?”

“Our tenth summer.  Why?”

“He made the pact with a brother, but you are no longer a brother.  You are a woman now; a woman he wants to marry.”

“So what?  Why does that have to change anything?  I’m same person I have always been.  It should not make any difference,” I said.  I stood to hang strips of meat from the poled to dry.

“It shouldn’t, but it does,” he said sadly.  “It makes all the difference in the world.”

Kneeling in front of him, I asked, “What am I supposed to do?  I can’t marry him.  You know that.”

“I know that you are too stubborn to marry him,” he said with a laugh.  “He would never be able to handle you.  You are too much woman for him.”

I kissed his cheek and whispered, “Thank you.”

“You can thank me by cooking dinner.  I’m starving.”

I fried strips of meat with vegetables and some herbs as he had taught me years ago.  We ate in companionable silence.  After the meal, I cleaned up and left him to meditate.

Walking back to my tent, my thoughts wandered to what Fa Ling had said.  Laughing Wolf was certainly handsome, as were all of my brothers.  They were all strong and brave and would take good care of their women.  Having been treated as a brother for so long, they had never stopped talking about their problems with women, or lack thereof, in front of me.  I knew their opinion of women and our places in their lives.  I would be expected to stay at the tent, cooking and cleaning, bear children, and do whatever else he said.  I just didn’t think I was up to it.  After so many years of freedom, I didn’t think I could ever live that sort of life.

I found my mother kneeling outside of our tent using the last of the sun’s rays to work on a hide.  She smiled when she saw me.
“You missed dinner.  I can only assume that you were with Fa Ling,” she said.

“Yes, I was.  Sorry I missed dinner, but he needed some company.”

“That’s my daughter.  Your grandfather is in the tent, and Father is at the council meeting.”

“Why didn’t he tell me about the meeting,” I asked as I ducked under the flap.

“I don’t know.  You can ask him when he returns,” she called from outside.

By the light of the fire, I saw Grandfather sitting on his furs on the other side of the tent.  I circled around the fire and hugged him before sitting next to him.

How was the hunt?  He signed.

Very good.  I killed a buck.  Mother is cleaning the hide.  I signed back.  It will be a new shirt for you.

My heart warmed as I saw him smile.  Grandfather had not been able to hear for a few years now, and our only way to communicate was through sign.  We continued our silent conversation until Father returned.

Jumping up, I ran to hug him.  Placing a kiss on his cheek, I asked, “How was the meeting?”  I stepped back with a worried look on my face when he did not return my greeting.  “What’s wrong father?  The meeting couldn’t have been that bad.  Fa Ling told me about it.  We don’t have anything to worry about.”

His arms wrapped tightly around me.  Over his shoulder, I saw my mother standing behind him with tears in her eyes.

“What’s wrong mother?  Why is she crying,” I asked my father.

With a sigh, he answered, “She is crying because the council has decided that it is time for you to leave our people.”

“What?  They want me to leave?  I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“I know, my daughter, but, with the white men attacking other camps, the council is afraid they will come here.”

“But we don’t have any captives,” I argued.  “They have no reason to come here.”

“We have you, and that is reason enough for them.”

“I’m not a captive, Father; I am your daughter.”

“But you are also white, and no matter what we say, the white men will try to take you away.  The council does wish such bloodshed over one white woman.”

“How can they do this,” I cried, my head spinning.  “I have been Lakota all of my life.”

“You have been Lakota since your fourth summer when I adopted you as my daughter.  You know your birth parents were white.  Nothing can change that.  Now, for the safety of our people, the council has decided that you must leave….”

I ran out of the tent in tears without hearing the rest.  How could this be happening?  The people I loved wanted me to leave.  Leave for where?  This was all I knew.  I ran out onto the prairie until I could run no more and fell to the ground crying.
Footsteps warned me of someone coming, but I no longer cared.  My world had just fallen apart.  Arms wrapped around me, and I looked up to see my mother.  She said nothing—just held me and rocked me until I had cried myself to exhaustion.

Then, when it was silent, I heard her speak, “I married your father when I was younger than you.  We were so happy together, but we had no children.  For many years, I prayed to the spirits to bless us with children.  One day, your father returned from a hunt with a little girl in his arms.  Her hair was the color of the grasses before the first snow; her eyes the color of the sky.  An eagle circled in the sky above you, and I knew that you were my gift from the spirits.  I became a mother, and my life was finally complete.  I knew that I would lose you someday to marriage, but I always hoped that you would stay close.  Unfortunately, the spirits had different plans for you.  They have their reasons, I’m sure.  They gave you to me; now they are taking you away,” she ended in a sob.

“The council won’t recant, will they,” I asked softly.  She shook her head against my shoulder.  “How much time do we have?”

“Until sunup,” she whispered.

We held each other in the melting snow for what seemed like hours.  Finally, we stood and went to face our destinies: apart, but never separate.

Chapter 2 coming soon!

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