Red Hawk’s Woman

redhawkswomancoverartCopyright © 2014 Karen Kay
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication

An archaeological dig along the Missouri River

Wolf Creek, Montana Territory

Spring, 1850

Eyes wide open, eight-year-old Effie Wendelyn Rutledge quietly flipped over in her makeshift bed, her attention centered on the two adults who were crowded close together. Their voices were hushed as they spoke, quite difficult to hear because of the fire that crackled merrily outside their tent. It caused Effie to concentrate all the harder. Holding her breath, she pulled the covers over her head, remaining as silent as possible. In truth, she feared if she uttered a sound—any sound—she would miss something vital.

On the far side of the tent, Effie’s mother, Alice Rutledge, and her dearest friend, Wilma Owens, reposed in a corner. As Effie peeped out from beneath her covers, she saw that the two women appeared to be dozing, unaware of what was being said.

Beside Effie lay Lesley Owens, a girl four years her senior. Lesley was also asleep, and this fact was odd, since it had been Lesley’s idea to stay up and listen to the adults.

Outside, in the distance, a coyote howled, an owl hooted and the incessant wind wailed through camp, adding more distraction to Effie’s quest in eavesdropping. The wind was another oddity out here, for it never ceased, and the sounds of its gusts reminded her of a person, as though the air itself were alive and conversing in a language all its own.

On that thought, Effie sighed and stared at the darkness beneath the covers. The shadowy vision that met her matched the mood of the night, for the blackness outside their tent lent an atmosphere of foreboding. Perhaps it was because there was no moon.

Though many children might fear the murky aura of evening, not so Effie. This was her family, this her life, and she considered herself as much a student of archaeology as anyone twice her age. Vaguely—if she tried really hard—she could hear her father’s soft voice. She concentrated…

“It happened,” her father, Walter Rutledge, said, “so long ago and is so completely mysterious that no one knows if the legend of the Lost Clan is fact or fable.”

“Yet, you must believe it to be true, Rutledge,” replied John Owens, Effie’s father’s best friend, colleague and Lesley’s father. “Otherwise, we would not be here now.”

“Aye,” agreed Effie’s father. “That I do. As I have already said, a figurine was given to Trent Clark, whom we know was a highly skilled conservator. It was he who restored the piece to its original luster before his untimely death—”

“Only a few years previous, wasn’t it?”

“Aye,” said Rutledge. “That it was.” Walter Rutledge became silent for so long that Effie feared her father might not continue. But in due course, he began again. “Clark not only entrusted the piece to my care, he gave me reason to believe the legend might be true. In particular there was an old Indian whom Clark had interviewed—a man who had lived to see an entire group of people restored to flesh and blood. According to Clark, that old Indian had witnessed a people appear out of a heavy mist.”

“Humph!” said Owens. “Have a care, my friend, where you place your trust, and perhaps your credibility. If you seek my opinion, I believe you are speaking of things too fantastic to be accepted. Legends are good for telling on a dark night such as this, but to put one’s faith in them…”

“That be a bold statement you make. And I am not sure I agree—”

“You must realize,” interrupted Owens, “that as archaeologists, we are interested only in facts, and the Indians embrace all sorts of bizarre ideas, all of them attributable to a supernatural consciousness. Yet what proof do we have that such notions exist?”

Rutledge sighed. “And what proof have we that they do not?”

Owens paused. “Touché,” he offered up at last, but there was a smile in his voice.

After a time, Rutledge must have come to terms with whatever notions Owens was trying to impart, for Effie’s father laughed, then said, “I would ask that you pay me little mind. Perhaps there is a bit of witchcraft in the air this night, and it is this that makes me speak so. For in truth, your arguments against such a thing are sound. Scientifically sound. And yet I cannot help but notice that, though you caution me, you are here with me now.”

Owens hesitated. “Yes, that I am. But after all, I cannot be letting you have this dig all to yourself, now can I?” Once more, there was amusement in Owens’s tone. “I may not believe the legend, but I’d like to, and if there’s any adventure to be had in a dig, you know I will be there with you.” Owens paused a beat. “Do you have the piece with you?”

“No,” said Rutledge. “I have placed it in a sealed box, safely stored away, for it is made not only of quartz, but of solid gold. To be sure, there may be other natural elements occurring in the piece, but if there are, they are not to be seen by the naked eye, and are certainly not in the majority.”

“Who do you suppose made the thing? The Indians?”

“Perhaps. But in my experience, the Plains Indians do not value gold like those people who are to be found way to the south of us, in Mexico.”

“Hmm… Strange.”

“Aye, that it is. I do have a theory, however. Consider this,” said Rutledge. “If the myth is to be believed, then according to legend, it was the Creator who made the images.”

“The Creator? More legend?” Owens let out his breath, as though in disbelief. “My friend—”

“More legend to be sure,” Rutledge continued. “For the Thunderer had four children who were killed. Now, Clark told me on his deathbed that he believed the Creator would not let the children die, but rather placed the spirit of each child into the gold of these rocks, there to await a time when a hero would come forth to gather them up and to place them all together again. There were four in all, and it is said that when the four have come together as a set and when they are given back to the Clan, the Clan will be freed.”

Owens hissed, the sound reminding Effie of a snake. Who was he, thought Effie, to be so rude?

“It’s not really so odd,” continued Rutledge. “The images, after all, look as though they could be the Thunderer’s children. Half bird, half human. And they are intricately made.”

A lengthy silence ensued. After a time, Owens asked, “I think I would like to hear the legend once more, if you would humor me.”

At those words, Effie grinned. This was what she had been waiting to hear. This was why she was still awake, even when her friend was not.

Not daring to move lest she be discovered, Effie settled in to listen. At last she was rewarded, for her father began, “In a time so long ago it has been forgotten, a clan killed the children of the Thunder god. It is said that this act was done because of the Clan’s greed for more food and more power than it would need to simply survive.

“Now, the Thunderer in Native American mythology, you must remember, is an angry god. He is a god of revenge, of sudden death, of lightning and thunder. But he is also a god of bodily lust. And so in retaliation for the Clan’s deed, the Thunderer stole some women from the people, three or four, then began to wage war on the entire tribe. He might have killed all within the Clan too, but for the Creator, who intervened on the people’s behalf.

“‘Nay, they shall not die,’ the Creator had said.” Walter Rutledge’s voice was dramatic and lent the story a believable air. “But though the Creator spared their lives, the Clan was to pay for their murderous crime. And pay they did, with their very existence…their eternity. Thus began the tribe’s plight, for the Creator banished the people to live in a mist, or a very heavy fog. It was an unearthly world, not real or substantial, and the Clan was trapped there, may still be trapped there, neither dead nor alive. But the Creator is nothing if not a god of justice, and he bestowed upon the people a chance to end the curse.”

“Oh? And what is that chance?” asked Owens skeptically.

“It is said that within each generation—about once every fifty years or so—the tribe emerges from the mist that binds them, but only for a single day. However, on that day, a boy is chosen from each band in the tribe. This boy is charged with the duty to go out into the world, to grow up within another tribe so he might learn of the world that is now in existence, so he might have his chance to try to undo the curse.”

“And you believe this? That the Creator,” Owens jeered, “would be putting such a responsibility onto a young lad? It would be quite an undertaking for a youngster, no doubt.”

“Indeed,” said Rutledge, “you are right, especially since the only clue given to each of the boys is that he must show kindness to an enemy, offer help to a foe. Now, many have tried to undo the curse…” Rutledge lowered his voice dramatically, “…but according to the legend, most have died in obscurity, shamed at their defeat.”

Silence ensued after this statement, broken only by the fire’s crackle and sputter. It was some time before Owens spoke up. “How is it so that these few have died in shame?”

“Apparently the chosen boy has only until his thirtieth birthday to reverse the curse. If he has failed in his quest by then, he will live out his life, still flesh and blood, but forever carry the knowledge that he failed his people. Most of those chosen—so goes the story—have died trying.”

Utter quiet followed in the wake of this explanation, and then Owens asked, “Is it so hard to show an enemy mercy?”

“It does seem incredible, does it not? I can only suppose there must be more to the undoing of the curse than simply this, for of course it would appear to be such an easy thing to do. But there is more.”

“More?”

“Aye,” said Rutledge. “I have said nothing about this last, not even to my dear Alice, for I fear that I find it too incredible to be believed.”

“Too incredible for you?”

“It is so.” Again, Rutledge hesitated, and Effie held her breath. Her father, still not knowing of his young audience, went on to say, “My dear friend, Trent Clark, mentioned that the tribe reappears in the flesh for one day about every fifty years—once a generation.”

“So you have said.”

“And if his calculations were correct,” continued Rutledge, “it would be about now that the tribe might reappear.”

“Reappear?”

“Aye, the people would become real again—for only a day. And if that be so, and if we can but see them, talk to them, it would be the first time in history that someone in our world has seen these people. Imagine…the present day coming into personal contact with the living past. Imagine what we might learn.”

Owens let out his breath in a loud slur, which sliced through the air, magnified because of the silence of the night.

Though the action might have been meant to put Rutledge off, it did not have that effect, for Effie’s father continued. “We are here at the right time and in the right place. It could happen.”

Effie caught her breath then placed her hand over her mouth in an ineffective attempt to block out the noise of her gasp. The sputtering of the fire must have hidden her mistake, for the two adults seemed oblivious to anything but their own conversation.

It could happen. The idea was mysterious, and even eight-year-old Effie could envision the outcome, the honor, the excitement of such a thing.

It was a long time before Rutledge spoke again. “Can you imagine what a find it would be to discover those people?”

“Aye,” agreed Owens, “that it would be. But who would believe us…you, might I ask? If the Clan only surfaces once a generation, and then disappears just as quickly?”

“Humph!” replied Rutledge. “Is it so important to be believed? Think for a moment of the opportunity if it were true, think of the questions we might ask those people, the knowledge we might acquire.”

“Yes, it would, indeed, be an unusual find. But we are not here to locate a live people. We are here to determine the past of this place and to find those artifacts. If it is a truth that the Lost Clan comes to light in this location, we will find evidence of it.”

“But, don’t you see? They would be of the past…and of the present.”

Owens snickered.

Effie’s father seemed unaware of his colleague’s displeasure. “Come, and let us go away to our beds. I believe our wives and our children are already fast asleep, and we must be up at the first light. Not only is there the history of a people to uncover, there is a chance we might discover them in the flesh.”

Owens laughed, but it was not one of pleasure. “I cannot say you have convinced me, but I am willing to believe in you, and since you judge that this is so, who am I to refute you?”

“Indeed!”

Effie heard the two men laugh. She could even imagine that they shook hands. Excitement twisted through her young body, making sleep all but impossible.

Turning over, she gazed at Lesley. Too bad the elder girl had missed the story. But Effie felt certain that on the morrow Lesley would taunt her until the entire thing was told.

Maybe she wouldn’t relate it.

The thought made Effie smile, since it was exactly what Lesley would do were their positions reversed. Effie yawned and, with the resilience of youth, soon drifted off to a dream filled with adventure.

Available September 30, 2014 Samhain Publishing