THE LAST SHAMAN
JOSEPH TWO TOES
The next morning dawned hot and bright; there was not even a sign of the lightest of clouds in the sky; Joseph and Ravenhawk sat at the breakfast table watching the others start their first meal of the day.
"Do you have plans today; Brother?" Ravenhawk asked Joseph.
"Yes Brother: I have given much thought to what we discussed and decided I must leave for a few days to seek out the gift I need."
"Is there anything you will need to take that we can help with?"
"There is this."
Joseph pushed over a piece of paper; on it was a drawing of the inside of a cabin; to Ravenhawk's surprise, he saw some major alterations to the standard cabin they had been using.
"If I have not returned before you have finished the cabin for the farmers; can a start be made on this one for me?"
"We can build it first if you wish."
"No, the farmers are needed more; it is best they have their place before this is built."
"Ok; we can do that; so you think you may be away for some time?"
"It depends on Creator; if he wishes that I have the right gift; then I will find it quickly; if not then I will have to hunt further afield."
"When do you plan to move?"
"After this meal; I will travel lightly, but would like to take one of the wagon horses to carry back any meat I find."
"It is yours; be safe my Brother."
An hour later and Joseph had left the clearing; Ravenhawk had set this day to repair the sacred ground around the sweat lodge; the others were to start on the three boy's cabin.
By mid morning, a sense of peace and calm had come over the nearly empty clearing; Ravenhawk could faintly hear the cleaning up going on in the dining room as Samuel and Consuela went about their tasks. From the main cabin came the sounds of Margret giving the daily lessons to the little ones; Ravenhawk set about the repairs and prayers for the sacred circle.
To repair the circle would take four days of prayers; each day would be for one of the four directions; when he checked his supplies he hoped he would have enough ghost sage for all four ceremonies; perhaps his brother Joseph would know where to get more at a later date.
Joseph travelled lightly; on the horse he had placed a pair of homemade saddle bags created by sewing two flour bags together; rolled up in the blanket he would use for sleeping, he had his rifle; the recurve bow was carried in his hands; there was also a long roll of rope tied to the saddle bags.
He had decided that he much preferred the new bow; it had power, accuracy and distance over his old traditional bow, which was now hanging in the place of pride over the small doorway of his hand made Hogan that had been his solitary home after joining the Clan.
Joseph looked about him as he loped along; the horse trotted comfortably behind him; its load light enough that it was hardly noticeable. The bags contained a few things Joseph thought he may need as he travelled; a cooking pot and small fry pan; salt, flour; a flint for fire lighting and a spare knife as well as ammunition for the rifle.
As yet, Joseph did not know where he was going to find the gift; he knew he would have to have at least one horse; that was the start and was normal for a gift but there also had to be something special; as yet he had no ideas.
Joseph was a boy of the deserts; this new land of forests and open grassy plains was new but not difficult to work with; his innate knowledge of many of the old ways mixed with much of the new; would make it easier for him to do what had to be done.
Joseph now felt older and wiser, he had taken his first enemy, deep inside there was a sudden rush of blood as something from long, long ago, stirred his blood; that his first dead enemy was also one of the long hated white men only added something to the thought.
Joseph had no problems with the whites of the Clan, they were a different type of people to the ones that had often made his life; and the life of his ancestors hard; even the Mexicano's family treated him with respect; something he thought he would never live to see; the Mexican's had been their enemies for longer than he could remember.
By the time the sun was sinking towards nightfall; Joseph had covered more miles than he realised; he looked around at the high ridges covered in trees and the thin strip of grassed land he stood on; it looked like a good place to camp for the night; he would take the horse to the trees and find a good place for a small fire.
Joseph was only disturbed once during the night; it was caused by the far off mournful sound of a lone wolf baying at the dim moonlight; Joseph rolled back in his blanket and returned to sleep; he was in no danger from the solitary wolf.
The first faint glimmer of morning was starting to show in the sky as Joseph rekindled the small fire; he had grown accustomed to the hot coffee in the morning and liked to start his day like the others in the Clan.
When his short breakfast of coffee and jerky was over; Joseph loaded the horse and continued back into the narrow valley; as he headed East the ground began to rise slowly; by midday he was standing on top of a low rise at the end of the valley.
Below him was a great sight; at the bottom of the slope was a small river, it was feeding into a large lake that looked as though it may have been in a national park before the virus.
At the lakes edge were numerous animals, some wild and some obviously from broken farms; there was a heavy mix of horses and cattle all along the lake front; these were mixed in with wild deer and other animals; what really caught his eye was further along the lake edge.
It was not much more than fleeting glimpses of fast moving small animals; one glance and Joseph knew he had found what he was looking for; the horse gift he could find at any time; what lay ahead of him now was far more important.
Joseph led the horse down the slope and slowly made his way to the lakes edge; some of the stock moved out of his way and kept their distance from the human; Joseph was happy to let them alone; he would mark this place so the farmers could come and collect some of the stock at a later time.
Once the horse was drinking his fill; Joseph looked again at the large stand of willows; below their long drooping branches were his targets; he could not believe the sheer numbers that ran and flashed about in the long grass and over the edge of the river bank.
Joseph pulled the horse back from the water and tied the rope around its foreleg; he would let it roam a little to eat while he set about his next business; he had a lot of snares to make before he could be ready for any skinning.
As Joseph worked on his snares; he quietly sang a song to Creator for a good hunt; in his song he described why he had need of the small animals and their pelts; it was not the time to try and mislead Creator; the importance of what he was trying to do was not to be ignored or done as an insult to Creator's ways.
Joseph worked diligently all afternoon, the animals he had chosen were small and he would need many of them to make the gift for the one he had chosen.
Later in the afternoon, as he finished what he hoped would be the last snare; Joseph looked out on the lake banks that were like long flat swaths that held good grass and gently sloped back up to the trees; as he did so, he caught sight of that nights meal.
Joseph laid aside his many small snares and took up his bow; it was time to get dinner. Being a consummate hunter; Joseph took no time at all to get two plump rabbits; after he said the prayers to aid their spirits through the mists; he set about cleaning them ready for the fire.
When Joseph rose next morning, he found himself a good place to hide and watch the action under the stand of willows; he wanted to mark the most commonly used runs and try to work out where the dens were; he was still amazed how the population of weasels had blown out just in the short time since the virus; there were plenty enough for what he wanted to do.
As he lay and watched; Joseph was also planning how best to cure the small skins and how to set out his small camp, he would have to stay here for some time to make sure the final pelts were properly done; he had already spied a number of trees whose bark would supply the tannin for tanning the skins.
With the use of a small amount of salt and a lot of fire ash, he could preserve the skins until he had enough to do one single tanning, it would all take time; but he had plenty of that.
After he had eaten a good meal and night was falling fast; Joseph went back over his plan for the many snares; when it was full dark he would start to lay them; stripping almost naked, he rubbed the saved rabbit fat over his body to hide his smell; the small weasels were not stupid; he could not afford to leave his own smell in the air.
Each snare had to be baited with fresh rabbit meat and set in the right place; Joseph was going to set out forty snares; if only half of them were successful, then he would still have enough; there would be no second chance; after tonight the weasels would be only too aware of the dangers around here and may well move on.
It was proved to be a long night; Joseph had to move slowly and with great care; each snare had to be checked and all traces of himself cleared away; not easy to do in the dark of night; even though there was the faintest glimmer of a rising moon.
It was close to midnight when Joseph finally made it back to his camp; just as he was laying his head down; he heard the first high pitched squeal; one snare had worked; Joseph fell asleep, the morning may bring a lot more hard work if he was lucky and Creator thought he deserved his pelts for the gift.
As the next morning warmed up; Joseph began to check his snares from the night before; there was a strange quietness now hovering over the stand of willows; what had only yesterday been alive with gambolling weasels was now without any sound except that of the birds and a few early animals at the lake edge.
Joseph started on his snares; as he cleared each one, he performed the small prayer and sprinkled dried sage over the carcass; the prayers would help the animals spirit to pass through the mists; by midday he had checked them all. His tally was better than he expected; of the forty snares he set, seven were empty and unused; four had been bitten through and the animal escaped; in a small pile he had twenty nine freshly killed weasels; while their pelts were all of different colours, the fur was long and still thick from last winter.
Once tanned they would make the perfect gift; for now the hard work started; the skinning was done quickly and expertly; each pelt was opened up and then rubbed with plenty of fire ash mixed with a little salt; using fresh willow branches; Joseph formed small hoops to set the skins on; they would now be placed in a shaded area on the racks he had made and placed under the trees to dry ready for tanning.
The animals had only the first signs of summer fat on them and so the scraping was easy to do before adding the ash and salt mix.
By late afternoon; Joseph had finished the last of the small narrow skins; after he placed the last on the rack he had made from willow branches; he looked around for that nights meal; there were still plenty of plump rabbits around to keep him fed.
As dusk approached and Joseph was cleaning the second rabbit; he heard deep in the trees a welcoming sound; the deep throaty warble of a turkey; it was quickly followed by a few more; Joseph smiled to himself, tomorrow he would have a change in diet.
All that remained now was to get rid of the fresh carcasses; this was done before Joseph settled down to wait for his meal to cook. The carcasses were spread out well away from his small camp site so that the animals of the might could feed on them at leisure; he also placed three high up on a tree branch for Eagle.
Joseph slept comfortably that night; his first part of the gift had been accomplished, he was well fed and now all he had to do was track down the second gift.
Joseph had plenty of time; the next part of tanning the skins and preparing them would take most of a week to complete; that would give him ample time to capture and train the second gift.
Joseph did not think he would have too much trouble with the second gift; around his camp environs the grass was good and there were few predators to scare off any prospects; Joseph could easily cover 20 miles or more in a single morning; to track down his second gift; he would be able to range far and wide in the search.
Finally; on the third day of his search; Joseph saw the gift he wanted; it was a magnificent Palomino stallion that stood at least sixteen hands; it was the perfect gift; Joseph set about its capture.
Joseph carried very little with him; this was going to be a long chase and he knew it from the start; over one shoulder was the thin, strong rope from the clan home; over the other was a small bag with sugar lumps and a small water bottle; Joseph wore as little as possible; his long moccasins and brief breechcloth; he had removed his leggings so he had the freedom for a long chase.
Had there been other people around to watch and follow; they might well have said it was the race of the century. The Palomino picked up Josephs scent and began to move away from the perceived possibility of a threat; as the horse moved so did Joseph; within a matter of minutes the pace had increased.
The horse had size and cunning on its side; it was not some pampered breed that had been taken care of on a fancy farm; this was a truly wild stallion and knew all the tricks of evasion; unfortunately for the stallion, its pursuer was not only determined but he was Apache; had the horse understood who he was trying to run from, he may well have decided to save his massive energy.
Joseph loped along behind the great stallion; his pace was just fast enough to keep the horse in sight and to let him know he was being pursued; for Joseph it was an easy ground swallowing pace; he could run like this for ever and a day and for now he had his sights set on that stallion.
The stallion soon realised that the small human was not going to stop his pursuit; it tried to gallop off and gain distance; it only turned out that, no sooner had he slowed to drink or crop a little grass than the figure appeared again.
The stallion then decided to shake off his pursuer by heading into the thick trees; this only served the human with the means to track him easier and the stallion could not keep up a fast pace to evade him.
Next the stallion headed for the open plains; here he could gallop at full speed; this however only used up more energy which he was never given the time to replace by the small pursuer. Each time the stallion stopped to lower its head for grass or water, the soft padding of the small human would be heard closing on him and he would have to flee again.
The hours wore on and always the pursuer was in sight of the pursued; the horse was starting to slow as his energy lapsed and was not given the time to be replaced. The stallion's steps began to falter; his flanks were covered in the white foam of sweat; the once wide clear eyes were now beginning to look lack lustre as the persistent hunter grew closer.
The race had covered miles and the sun was now half way towards setting; the stallion could feel the full weight of the long chase and the heat of the day; and still the small figure was pursuing him relentlessly; in all his five years of life in the wild, the stallion could not remember a pursuer like this one.
For both of the racers there came a time when the end was in sight; the stallion knew it was beaten; oh yes he could still put up a fight but his time of running was nearing its end; of the small figure now close behind him there seemed to be no slackening of his pace.
The end came swiftly and with little fanfare; it was almost as though the great stallion had used all his options and saw no way out; in a shallow cul-de-sac, the stallion stopped and turned; he could run no further and it was time to fight; he watched as the small slim figure closed on him;
Joseph stopped only ten feet away from the great stallion; there was a feeling of mutual respect for both of them; it had been a long, hard chase and now they were face to face. Joseph could see the stallion had run his race; the thick lather of sweat told its own story; for Joseph it had been a long run but he was not winded; he had kept an even steady lope that kept him close enough to force the stallion to run but never get out of sight; a very old and true tactic of his forbears.
Both figures looked each other over; there was mutual respect for a good chase but now it was time to claim his prize; Joseph opened his small bag and took out a number of sugar cubes; laying them on a small rock at his feet, Joseph then stepped back and waited; he blocked the only exit from the cul-de-sac; he waited for the stallion to get the scent of the sweet sugar.
It came to the stallion as a faint trace of something good; his sharp eyes had watched the human place something on the stone; his fine nose was leading him towards the treat and his hungry belly was doing the rest; the stallions need for food and water was at its highest after such a long chase.
With slow wary steps; the stallion made his cautious way towards the offering on the stone; it took only seconds for the small squares to disappear into the stallions hungry mouth; the offering was hard to ignore and the stallions mind was now confused; in one part it wanted to try to escape but; in another it wondered why this human would make an offering of sweet sugar.
The stallions state of hunger and thirst made it all the easier for Joseph to slowly slink forward; had the stallion been fresh and alert, he may have noticed the slow movements as Joseph closed the short distance;
The stallion lifted its head from the now empty stone; the small human was singing a soothing song that made the stallion relax a little, even though the human was looking directly into the stallions wide eyes as though in challenge; the stallion just did not have anything left to fight with.
Joseph watched as the stallions head went down; he let his own eyes slide along the neck of the fine Palomino as the Palomino stallion moved in closer; his song to the spirit of the wild horse now seemed in tune with the lonely surroundings and the wild horse and young Apache that stood there.
Every movement that Joseph made was slow and deliberate; a few more sugar cubes and his rope was loosely tied around the thick strong neck of the stallion; their scents intermingled and their mutual respect seemed to break down all the barriers.
The stallion now stood very close to Joseph; it tossed its head and a few flecks of foam from his mouth landed on the bare young chest; the young human made no attempt to wipe it off; the stallion was now even more confused; he could quite easily rear up and kill the young human with his powerful hooves yet the human showed no fear; it only confused the stallion more.
Joseph stood calmly as the horse sniffed him and tried to make up its mind to trust or fight; Joseph waited patiently; he was of course on full alert but made it appear he was relaxed and unafraid; the advantage was his and he knew it.
The rope in Josephs hands was held slack; even though it was now tied around the stallions neck, he put no pressure on it; it was for the stallion to decide to make friends and come with him easily or try to fight the inevitable; Joseph waited and watched every move and gesture of the stallion.
After some time, the stallion decided he had little to fear; the young human had made him an offer of friendship and had not tried to scare him like the pale ones had done last year as they tried to chase him down on their horses; he had evaded them with ease but this one had shown fearlessness in his pursuit and now offered friendship; the stallion finally came to a decision.
Joseph could almost feel the moment of decision by the stallion; with slow movements, Joseph took the water bottle from his shoulder and unscrewed the cap; the instant smell of water made the stallion toss his head once again but, this time it was more of a gesture of acceptance.
Joseph lifted the water bottle up to the mouth of the stallion; he let a few drops of water fall on the panting tongue before pouring a little more into the open mouth; at that moment a bargain had been sealed.
Joseph let the stallion drink all the water from the bottle; he then took up the slack rope and began to calmly walk way and out of the cul-de-sac, the rope still loose in his hands; the stallion seemed to readily accept his new future and followed along without being forced.
It was a long way back to his small camp and so Joseph led the stallion towards a water hole not far away; they would stay out here for the night; the stallion could feed and drink and, in the morning they would make the long run back to his camp; there was still a lot for the stallion to learn, but now Joseph had time on his side.
The next day it was a long run back to his camp; the stallion ran easily beside him with the loose rope around its neck; its pale mane and tail flowed in the light breeze as it ran; even in such a short time; the stallion felt comfortable with the young human and a strange sense of respect had quickly grown between them.
Once back at the small camp site; Joseph spent some time gently rubbing the stallion down with hands full of soft grass; he then found a small bunch of twigs and used them to comb out the long mane and tail; the stallion seemed to revel in the attention; it was as though he was no longer alone and enjoyed the company of the young human; even the other horse at the camp seemed to fit with the stallions feelings.
For the next few days; the pair got used to each other; after working on his many skins, Joseph would spend hours with the stallion; sometimes they would run and Joseph would teach the stallion new things; other times Joseph would sing to the stallion and spend long hours brushing and combing out its long mane and tail.
Joseph had checked the condition of the now tanned pelts; of the twenty nine he had lost only three to bad preparation but it still left plenty for what he wanted to do; it was now time to return to the clan and finalise his gifts.
As they left the camp site; Joseph looked once again at the marvel of the stallion; the wagon horse was happy to carry the small bundle of tanned skins as well as the saddle bags.
The stallions coat glowed and shone with the care it had been given; tied in its flowing blonde mane were three turkey feathers; it was going to be a fine gift, Joseph thought.
For the last two days, Joseph had even ridden the stallion; the first occasion had made the stallion a little skittish; but a soothing song from Joseph had soon settled him down; for the trip back to the clan clearing; Joseph ran alongside the stallion; occasionally he would talk to it or sing a small child's song.
The small bundle of skins and the light saddle bags were barely felt by the large strong wagon horse as it trailed along behind the other two.
Ravenhawk had finished the work needed to repair the sacred circle; he had spent four days with the prayers and was now satisfied that all was back in place.
Since Joseph had left; the others had completed the long ranch style cabin for the three boys who were even now; out looking for stock or building post and pole fences;
Joseph's cabin was almost finished exactly as he had drawn it; Ravenhawk could not figure out why Joseph had wanted such a fancy kitchen installed but, he was his Apache Brother, it was little effort to make him happy.
Ravenhawk now thought about Joseph; the young Apache had been gone for twelve days; as he thought about his friends quest; Ravenhawk heard the very distinctive call of Eagle; looking up he saw the great one circling the clearing; as Ravenhawk watched; the great Eagle turned and flew off to the East, a sure sign of the beginning of something.
As Ravenhawk saw the great Eagle disappear into the blue sky, he heard the sound of fast trotting horses; he turned towards the sound just in time to see Joseph; along with two horses, come trotting into the clearing; Ravenhawk was instantly taken by the sight of the large Palomino stallion.
"Aho Brother; it has been a long hunt; I see you were successful." Ravenhawk called to Joseph.
"Aho Brother; yes, everything is now ready; I need to settle everything then I have more to ask of you."
"I will wait for you at the main cabin; yours is nearly finished; Father Liam is making the last of your furniture and the door is almost done."
"That is good; I will go to my Hogan and prepare everything to be moved."
Ravenhawk watched as Joseph set off for where he had made his small one man Hogan; his new cabin was set close by and well hidden in the trees.
Ravenhawk shook his head in wonder; he had seen a look of pleasure on Joseph's face that he had not seen before; there was now a new lightness in the air; Ravenhawk smiled and went back inside the cabin where Antonio was teaching Little Bear the finer points of beading.