The middle-aged shaman wearily packed up the remains of his meager camp. He had been away long enough from his mourning wife. He, too, mourned the loss of their unborn child, but not as much as his wife who had carried it for six moon cycles.
His trip to the sacred mountains was two-fold. First, to escape the sadness in hi tepee, and secondly, to ask Wahkan if there was to ever be a child for him and his wife. He still didn't have any answers to his second quest. What he did have was a nice-mash of "picture" dreams. One of the more vivid dreams was a field of snow with one lone, sturdy, purple iris blooming in it. What it meant he could only ponder. The other "picture" dreams showed many things: war, love, death, and wondrous things - a woman becoming shaman; a great, new, warrior chief. He almost laughed at these things, thinking he smoked too much of the dreaming leaf. Laughter didn't come though. Who was he to tempt the wrath of the one true God?
At last he was ready to leave the site of his two day respite. He left no sign of his visit. Only a trained eye could distinguish the smoke of a bush branch to obliterate his footprints, and ashed of his pipe and small fire. Satisfied that all was as it should be, he headed south, down the treacherous mountain.
Several hours later, as he was following the base of the mountain, he looked upward in order to reassure himself that he was truly off the mountain. He was, so he turned to the east to begin his slow walk home. His eyes noticed several black spots moving in the air. "Buzzards," he thought. Dismissing the buzzards, and what they meant from his thoughts, he headed home.
Home laid several miles from the mountain range the shaman had just left. Home was a medium sized village of tepees that were currently in their summer hunting grounds. Howahkan was anxious to get home to his wife and the village. Five days were a long time to be gone, what with Chenoa's grief. "Was he a poor husband?" No, he rationalized, I am a shaman first and a husband second. Chenoa will just have to understand.
Deep in thought he kept moving towards home. Part of his being was subconsciously attuned to his surroundings for sights and sounds of danger. That was why he stopped dead in his tracks when he heard what sounded like the whine of a puppy. More alert now to his surroundings, he crouched down for a better lead on the direction of the sound. It was a pathetic, mournful, almost heart-wrenching sound. Almost like pain, hunger, and anger combined.
Once he deciphered what direction the sound was coming from, he debated with himself as to whether he should check it out. Howahkan. being a kind, gentle, soul went in the direction of the whines. His mind kept telling to leave well enough alone. Why bring more trouble upon yourself? But his heart went out to the cry for help.
Soon he came upon the remains of a charred wagon train. Bodies laid everywhere.
White men bodies covered in blood. Howahkan halted in his tracks and surveyed the area looking for signs of trouble. Nearly half an hour passed before he felt confident that whomever had done this deed was not lingering around. The whining sound was getting weaker. Whatever, or whomever, it was issuing from was nearing death. With all his senses attuned, Howahkan edged his way in the direction of the whines. At last he found its source. Laying almost underneath a charred wagon was a body. Near the body was a bundle of cloth. The sound was issuing from the bundle. Retrieving the bundle, he held it close as he unwrapped it. Inside was a baby, mewling weakly. The child had a head of dark hair, but was pale of skin. It opened its eyes and Howahkan gazed into dark gray ones filled with ancient wisdom.
"My son," Howahkan thought. He was quite taken in by the child in his lap. Without giving it much thought he arose from his knees and walked away from the death and destruction with the child in his arms.
Finding a haven he felt was safe he placed the child on the ground and looked for something to feed it. Cutting a strip of buckskin off of his shirt he poured a small amount of water onto it. He smeared some pemmican into the wet spot making the past a little looser. It wasn't a good meal for an infant of a couple months age, but it might give it enough nourishment ti keep it alive until he reached home. Holding the wet cloth to the babe's mouth it moved its head away from the unfamiliar object. With great patience on his part Howahkan eventually had the babe sucking in the wet rawhide.
Looking up from the quieted child he realized it was getting dark.
"I'd best be getting home. It's not wise to remain out in the open like this," he thought, "besides the child may not survive."
Gathering up his belongings and cradling the now sleeping, exhausted, babe in his arms he started his homeward walk.
Deep darkness surround him, yet, still he plodded onward. Although he was no longer young he was not quite old either. He would make it. He must make it. The child was meant to be his son, that was why Wahkan had kept it alive and let Howahkan find him.
Howahkan reached his village well after dark. The moon was high overhead and beginning its descent in the western sky. Although he was stumbling from fatigue and desperately wanted to curl up on the sleeping pelts next to his wife, he needed to remain awak awhile longer.
"Chenoa," he said, softly, hating to disturb her sleep.
"It's you," came her sleep filled voice. "What is it?"
"Here," he said, offering her the blanket wrapped child.
"What is it?" She repeated.
"Open it and see."
Taking the bundle, which was warm to her touch, she laid it next to her before she gingerly peeled the covers back. Once the child's face was uncovered she looked up at him, then back to the child.
"Who did you steal this from?" She accused.
"Wahkan led me to him. He was the only suvivor of an Apache raiding party. Do you still have milk in your breasts? He's about starved."
"I might," she whispered.
The child moved and began a weak whimper. The sound tore at her heart. Taking her buckskin top off, she lifted the bundled child to her exposed breast. The child nuzzled against her. With a little guidance from Cheona it found the nipple and latched on. A shiver of pleasure rippled through her. She offered a silent plea to Wahkan to replenish her milk. Wahkan, being a forgiving God, answered her peal. Cheona felt the familiar tingle in both her breasts as the child's incessant sucking urged the milk to flow.
"You are tired my husband," Chenoa stated after she and the child settled together comfortably. "Why don't you lay down and rest while we tend to business here?"
The weary man did as she suggested. It was more important that the child be tended to. Besides, he was tired and the furs were enticing. Within a blink of an eye he was snoring away.
Her husband never ceased to amaze her. When she first met him she was taken by his noble bearing and quiet, gentle voice. Little did she know how powerful and wise he could be. She loved him then, before their marriage; she loved, feared, and was awed by him during there life together; then, after the loss of their unborn child, she began to doubt her love; but now with a child snuggled warm and secure in her arms, her heart swelled once again with love for him. Love for Howahkan.
She reached out her free hand and touched his thigh just above the knee. She moved it softly upon him. He didn't stir, so deep was his sleep. Her features softened as she looked upon his sleeping form. Tears rolled down her cheeks in happiness. How she felt complete.
After awhile she moved the sleepy child to her other breast. It must have still been hungry for it latched on and suckled. A warm lassitude descended on Cheona. She, too, was sound asleep in a slumped over position. The child laid contentedly asleep in Cheona's lax hold, a dribble of milk hanging on its lower lip.
Howahkan awoke with a start. He relaxed as he recognized the familiar surrounds of his tepee. His eyes rested on the familiar form of his wife. Why was she sleeping in an upright position? He wondered. Then he saw a slight movement in her arms and remembered the child he had found. Sitting up he reached to take the child from her. His movement awoke Cheona.
"I will attent to the child," she said. "We must check it over to make sure it is whole."
Unwrapping the blankets surrounding the child, they were assailed by the pungent smell of excrement.
"Well that part works," Howahkan stated.
"The child will be filthy. Bring some water and I will cleanse it."
He did as she asked, while she continued to strip the child. Placing the bowl of water near her, he handed her a cloth to wipe the child with.
The child was filthy as Chenoa had said. He watched as she gently wiped the now mad, indignant, crying, small human. It was soon made clear that this was not the boy he had wanted. It was a female child. His disappointment flowed through him. Oh well, he thought, Chenoais happy so I will accept this child as my own. His wife's face reflected her happiness.
"What shall we name her?" Asked his wife.
"I don't know. You name her," he said, moving to get up, unaware that his voice betrahyed his disappointment.
"I am sorry it's not a boy," his wife stated quietly.
"So am I," he admitted, "but she makes you happy, so I am happy."
As he said those words he realized how right he was. He was happy they had this child. A voice within his head told him he was right. He had done the right thing. They were meant to be this child's parents.