At the cave they gathered most of their sparse belongings and bundled it onto frames strapped to strong and willing backs. They decided to leave equipment and supplies in the cave for anyone who may seek sanctuary there. Before they left, Long Willow and her two companions offered prayers and thanksgiving for all the cave had provided them. She thanked the creatures that had responded to her request to share this dwelling. Long Willow offered her gratitude for finding two such companions in life. He gave thanks to the Great Spirit for the vision bestowed upon them. Finally she gathered up her herbs and medicines, rolling them into a blanket that she tied tightly. As she took her last step across the lip of the cave she stopped. Immobile. In a trance. He saw her. Observed her slim body swaying backwards and forwards. She listened intently to an interior voice. He stepped closer to her and supported her from falling with his strong arms. She turned and looked at him as though from afar. She spoke strongly in a voice scarcely her own: “You will return to this cave in dreamtime, though not in this lifetime. Hear me now – understand the dream and do not resist what it teaches. Hear me – and promise me.”
He was puzzled by her words, yet readily gave his promise. He gently held her until she came back from where she had travelled. He had no understanding of her episodes of prophecy. He remained quiet and attentive to her. She shuddered slightly within his embrace and shook her head, as though she too did not understand. She smiled to her gentle husband. But she had understood, though he had not. In another time, he would.
They returned to their ancestral village after two days of walking. The fourth family had arrived, becoming the West Clan. To their astonishment they saw their new home almost completed. The families of the four clans had pooled their labour and resources to create the stone dwelling at the centre of the village. It was spacious, modest and nearly finished. She had tears streaming down her face as she spoke in gratitude: “Many hands and hearts have made our new home. Our village renewal has a wonderful foundation – all of you. I greet you from my heart with deep thanks. Please know that I will serve you all my days.” On entering their unfinished dwelling they saw the families had contributed blankets, baskets and clay pots with food. All from their own meagre supplies. To welcome them home. It was with great joy that they spent their first night with The People. He left to visit the fourth family and speak with them. The two women were alone together.
“Do you think it time that you told him?” asked Long Willow. “Told him what?” she answered in surprise.
“That you are with child.”
Her mouth dropped open wide. She had been too preoccupied to notice that her moon time was long passed. With typical mischief Long Willow continued”
“Then I will have to tell him. It seems I have the task of carrying the tidings of continuation.”
They both laughed and hurried together to find him with the fourth family. He was delighted to see them and introduced the fourth clan. Astonished by the news she brought to him. Not just his and her child, but the first born into the new beginning for The People.
At her time of delivery, Long Willow and medicine women from all clans attended to her. He waited outside, with some anxiety and much patience. He looked into the sky for a sign. The full moon was shrouded by drifting clouds. The movement of clouds by a westerly wind made it appear as though the moon was continually rising. On the first cry of the baby girl, he drew in a deep breath of relief and joy. Long Willow chanted the midwife’s song of a new birth. The mother’s voice joined in weakly. He smiled to hear her voice. Then it was carried along by the medicine women chanting in unison. He listened and bathed in this glorious sound. Later, Long Willow stepped through the doorway with the girl child wrapped in a soft antelope skin with a newly woven blanket around it. Long Willow gently placed the daughter in her father’s arms. He held this new life close to his heart – breathing her in to his core.
“Her name is to be Rising Moon. She is the beginning of our renewal.”
He slowly stepped into their stone dwelling and returned the baby to her mother. He sat the remainder of the night with them as they both slept – drinking in their beauty.
Rising Moon was loved by all, growing into a beautiful and curious child. Very much her mother’s daughter. She had all the signs and propensities of a medicine woman. As a small child she knew from her mother how to speak with plants about their medicine qualities. She was also her father’s daughter. At two years she would accompany him on irrigation rounds amongst the clans. As a four year old she would sit quietly next to him when the men’s council met.
Rising Moon carried her mother and father within her. The gifts of healing and prophecy, with the authority to govern – both were in her tiny frame. She was slender and wiry, her unruly hair held by a headband above piercing brown eyes and a smile that melted whoever she greeted. This exceptional child was wise and gentle beyond her years. She had an almost visible internal strength. She stood apart yet also blended in seamlessly.
Several years after consolidating their main settlement The People had in place all that the three cave dwellers had discussed on the lip of the cave in the sacred canyon. After five years their numbers had increased by tenfold. Over fifty families distributed between the four clans. Some were related to the original four families, some came from other communities. The abundance of children and young people enabled the community to thrive. Long Willow also had more than 300 warriors under her command – men, women, boys and girls. The two councils decided that with their increased numbers, it was time to return to the abundance of the river settlement the following summer. They knew this could invite another raid as they had a fine stock of newly traded horses. The summer settlement was part of their territory. It could be only reclaimed by occupying it. This time they were ready and well prepared. The women and young girls were trained well by Long Willow to shoot with the long rifles and also in hand to hand combat. The young women enthusiastically took to this departure from their traditional role. They
vowed amongst themselves that not one of them would ever be taken alive as a captive to be enslaved or sold. Long Willow organized them into small groups of three – with two long guns – one sharpshooter, one loader and one replacement. The men had become very impressed with their womenfolk. In particular with Long Willow. Some had resisted her authority, until they saw how she could shoot better than any one of them. So they too trained. To be silent, patient, hardly visible, adept with all weapons – traditional and new. A confident and capable cadre of warriors were ready to defend their people.
Later that summer, once established in their river settlement, they did not have long to wait for their training to be tested. There was one further raid by the Apache, who drew on their previous successful tactics. They were spotted early on by sentinels from the East Clan. One sentinel sent in the harsh cry of a hawk. All stayed hidden, ready to gun down retreating raiders. The boys guarding the newly traded horses in the northern pasture became decoys, as three raiders sent in to kill them were cut down silently with swift arrows of death from well hidden men of the North Clan. The main Apache party crossed the river from the east, just as before. They were met by deadly gunfire from men of the South Clan situated at the top of the river bank, reinforced with stone defences. Still a dozen raiders got through and headed straight for the women’s lodge. Only to find the older women waiting for them with their long guns raised. At a command from Long Willow the women quickly dispersed. In threes – to dug out hollows in the ground behind the protection of raised stone walls, and to well protected positions in the trees. One warrior laughed at the sight, only to fall face forward with a bullet in his forehead. Long Willow’s instant retribution.
The remainder retreated, picking out one young woman for capture. She was returning to the village by a north west trail, not hearing the alarm cry of the hawk. She had not reached the refuge of the women’s lodge and was roughly seized. She had a knife in a sheath strapped to her back and reached for it with her free hand. She stabbed her assailant twice at the base of the neck. In astonishment he dropped her. Swift as a mountain lion she regained her feet and thrust the knife upwards through his belly into his heart – just as she had been trained. Then she ran to the woman’s lodge leaving her knife in the body of the dying attacker. Covering fire from the women kept her safe and cut down her would be pursuers. She was fleet of foot and sped past the first line of women. And there was Long Willow with her arms outstretched to hold the small warrior who trembled and cried as strong arms comforted her. The girl received a new name later that night in the women’s lodge. She loved to laugh and dance, yet all had seen her courage and fierceness that day. From that moment on she was called Dancing Mountain Lion. In time she became a leader of the women warriors, as her training with Long Willow intensified.
The long gun fire from the women had driven the remaining raiders back. They decided to retreat the way they had came, but that door was closed by the men of the South and West Clans who had killed every one of the party advancing from the south. The women closed in from the west, the men from the river in the east and south. There were only three raiders left alive – they quickly laid down their arms. He stepped in front of the angry People, pointed to one of the Apache warriors and spoke to him in his own tongue:
“Return to your people. Come for your dead tomorrow at mid-day. Bring only a small party and many horses to carry your dead. Otherwise these two warriors will join them. We will not damage your slain warriors.”
At noon next day, a small party led by a war chief arrived, trailing a dozen horses to carry their dead home. They were stopped at the river’s edge. Their thirty dead were laid out respectfully on the ground. Their two living warriors were tightly bound, sitting next to them. The war chief carefully surveyed the force gathered there. He had been very aware of being observed throughout the eastern approach to the river settlement. He noticed armed men and women back in the trees and atop the rim of the canyon his party had travelled through. He examined the dead where his son and younger brother lay:
“Who do I speak to?” He stepped forward:
“I speak for my people. I speak for the ones standing here. I speak for the ones further back in the trees and the ones you cannot see. All with guns to kill you if necessary.”
He pointed to the canyon that provided passage to the river. The elderly war chief had no need to look. “We will take six of your horses as we lost six people yesterday at the hands of your warriors. When you pick up the bodies of your dead – place all your guns, bullets and weapons on the ground beside them. We take those too.”
This was too much of an insult for one of the Apache warriors. He leapt at one of the young women holding a rifle pointing at him. Jerking the rifle from her hands he was turning the rifle round to shoot her. He had not noticed Long Willow standing behind, as she knew that this young women was nervous. Swiftly Long Willow’s stone headed battleaxe carved an arc through the air, crushing his shoulder and arm that held the girls’ rifle. He fell screaming to the ground. It was finished at that moment. He placed himself between Long Willow and the injured warrior:
“If we choose, we can kill all of you. When attacked we will defend ourselves with a fury you will not encounter elsewhere. You will lament and rage when you return to your own land. Just as we lament and rage over our lost people. But if you want horses – in the future trade for them with long guns. If you want young women – enter into marriage alliances. Needless killing must stop. When we need to – we are prepared to kill. You see that from the many bodies you carry back to your village. Our terms are fair and just. Your six horses and weapons for the bodies that belong to you.” The war chief surveyed all around him. The formidable force surrounding his party. His wounded warrior, dead brother and son. He assented. He remained still and watchful on his horse while guns and weapons were laid on the ground. The bodies were lashed to the backs of horses. The six finest horses were picked out and led away. With long guns cocked and levelled at them the war chief and his small party left. Only the elderly chief rode, his warriors walked leading each packhorse with its burden of death.
In the men’s council that evening he met with the four clan chiefs. She came to the door of the men’s lodge, requesting permission to enter and speak:
“The women’s council has met and we do not trust the Apache. Their anger will grow and create a revenge raid with enough warriors to seriously harm us. They know about us now. The women are in agreement to move our summer camp immediately. Long
Willow knows of a plentiful river and valley three days journey from here. The women are prepared to leave tonight. We will also leave baskets of dried meat and beaded moccasins for our visitors. To pacify their stomachs and please their women. The women’s council has spoken.”
He nodded quietly and asked each clan chief for his view. They all agreed except one. To this dissenting voice he said:
“You have a right to stay here if this is your wish, though I fear for your safety. I request humbly of you that you come with The People, so that we remain strong.”
After a few moments of silence and struggle – the assent was given.
He spoke to her:
“Thank the women for their wise counsel. They are equal to the voices of this council. We leave immediately and will bring our dead to the valley that Long Willow knows of.” He thanked the North Clan chief – Crow Feather – for his decision and spoke to the men’s council: “We have heard from the women and Crow Feather. Ask Long Willow and the West Clan to ride with supplies to this valley and prepare a settlement for the People. Crow Feather’s Clan provides protection. You must leave immediately. The rest of the people will leave by morning light and the South Clan will be in charge of the journey. Say prayers for our dead so their spirits can welcome us back here. We take their bodies with us. The East Clan will come last to erase our trail and to make a false trail to the south. No more words need to be spoken.”
Crow Feather, now fully re-united with the People, recognized the responsibility placed on his North Clan. Also the master stroke of diplomacy offered to him.
By dawn the summer settlement was deserted, a false trail broken to the south for ten miles with all trace of the westward journey carefully concealed. The Apache returned in force two days later only to survey the remnants of the summer settlement. Two baskets hung from a cottonwood tree next to the river – obviously left for them. The war chief had them cut down and delivered to him. Opening the basket of dried meat and fish brought amusement. The second basket contained intricately beaded women’s moccasins
– clearly to be taken back to their women. The amusement spread to a chuckle and then an exasperated roar of laughter. The war chief bit into the dried meat and offered the beaded moccasins to any warrior who wanted them for his womenfolk. Before they left the war chief remarked to his warriors:
“Perhaps we will trade with them next time.”
They had been out manoeuvred yet again, though read clearly the peace signs from a well organized and dangerous enemy.
The People grew stronger. He was renowned for transforming war into trade and marriage relations. He governed wisely and skilfully. The easy manner and smile hid a steely mastery of tactics and strategy. He carefully spoke last in council, not pressing his views too hard, allowing others to claim them as their own. He encouraged and inspired other leaders to take responsibility. He knew the language and mentality of the leaders in other Indian nations. Whether friend or foe – he knew how to approach them, so they could resolve issues without armed conflict. She continued her medicine journey and shared healing skills with men and women with the gift to pass it on to generations yet
unborn. Their bond in life and marriage grew deeper than even they could realize – so different yet so unified. Rising Moon was a mixture of both their gifts. She was already recognized as a gifted healer among The People and the only youthful member of the women’s council.
But the maturing of Rising Moon became unavailable to him. In his prime of life he journeyed to a distant outpost of soldiers to establish the rights of The People to the lands and territories required to sustain them. He had also taken four of his finest horses to trade with the soldiers at the outpost. He was met with desolation as the soldiers and the Indians gathered there were suffering from an ailment no one could relieve. There were unburied bodies of Indians in one corner of the compound. Soldiers were dead in their billets. The officer in command waved him away so he would not become contaminated. He left his four fine horses with the commander and began his journey home.
As he journeyed homewards he felt chills overwhelm him, vomited frequently and felt the life force draining from his body. He fell several times from the back of his horse as his strength faded. The last time while crossing a river. He battled with his remaining strength to reach the river bank, hauling himself up to the base of a weeping willow tree by the river’s edge. There he lay – soaked, shivering with fever coursing through his body. He realized he was less than a day’s ride from The People’s main settlement. He released his faithful mare, urging the horse home to bring her. His horse ran fast and true so that by nightfall she was found by his wife next to their dwelling. With a sinking heart, she gathered her medicines and daughter, asking the horse to lead her to where her husband lay. The Clan Chiefs and Long Willow were alerted by messenger and followed shortly afterwards. By daybreak they came across him, near to death with fever and very cold. She knew what to do with the fever to prevent it penetrating her and The People. There was an ancient medicine wheel on a rocky outcrop above the weeping willow tree where he lay. Overlooking the canyon to the east. She asked the Clan Chiefs to carry her husband on a hastily built carrying frame – but not to touch him. They laid the frame down in the medicine wheel so that his head was in the west, his heart in the centre and his feet pointing to the eastern door of the medicine wheel. That was where the Sky People could enter.
She knew by this time her medicine powers were insufficient, so she called in the Sky People to save her husband. They came. Their light could be seen along the canyon to the east and it spread up to the medicine wheel where he lay. He was far too gone for even their extraordinary abilities. She lit four fires of sacred herbs within the medicine wheel to warm and purify him for his journey. She had herbal medicine prepared long ago for such an instance. With some water from the river, brought up by Rising Moon, she held his head so he could drink it. He came back to her and smiled. A beautiful smile that enveloped her with so much love she almost broke down. He knew it was his time and had no fear. Just joy at the life he had spent with her. Her heart was breaking for she did not want to let him go. Yet the depth of wisdom within her knew she could not keep him any longer. The grief abated as she summoned all her strength and love to assist his journey from his body across time and space. She beseeched the Sky People to assist her to stay steady and for him to journey well.
The Clan Chiefs, Long Willow and Rising Moon stood in silence round the medicine wheel. They were instilled with her calm and fortitude. Only she knew her inward struggle and sorrow. She surmounted both as she began to chant the sacred songs of her people. She knew not to vent her grief and loss at this moment of traversing. As she sang, he looked up at her with amazement as he had done so often before during their life together. Just before he drew his last breath, she cradled his head in her arms, leaned over and whispered in his ear:
“I will find you, my husband. I will find you”
As he began to travel on universal waves she chanted the sacred song of the Sky People – the secret chant that saved their lives in that first terrible raid. She chanted their journey to the cave, to their care for the earth and for The People. Sharing at last in her husband’s last smile, she cried tears of pure joy as she sang. On the second day, Rising Moon, who had sat quietly outside the medicine wheel, approached her mother. Quietly she took her mother’s arm and whispered:
“It is time mother.”
She had expected her mother’s face to be gaunt and drained by grief. Rising Moon gasped in surprise at the radiance of her mother’s face, framed as it now was by long white hair. The ordeal of her husband’s transition had turned her long black tresses to snow. She looked majestic as she gently laid her husband down in the medicine wheel. She stood up and looked around her and lifted her arms to the sky as if she were holding him still. Long Willow stood beside her and did the same.
“I will prepare my husband’s body in the old way, for all our relations and the Earth Mother.”
Rising Moon was very still, swaying like a sapling in the morning breeze. “Mother, will I find him too?”
“Yes my daughter. He has traveled safely. We will both find him.”