THE LAST SHAMAN
Our first chief
There was a feeling of dread in the community as the people thought about the four now lying injured in the clinic. Most of their thoughts were for Silas as he was the most badly hurt; even the two hard working girls had little hope for his recovery.
At the door of the clinic there was always someone waiting and watching. In the early hours of the morning, Lazy Rider was on duty when he thought he heard a faint call from inside.
There was no hesitation from him as he turned and entered to see who it was that called.
Once inside he saw that the badly injured Silas was trying to get out of bed; going to his side, he asked.
"Aho Brother, what do you need?"
"Aho little Brother, my time has come to complete my circle; I need your help to get me to where I can see the sun rise and to sing my final death song. Will you help me?"
"Is it truly your time?"
"It has been said, it is time to close my circle of life and greet my ancestors."
"Wait here and I will get extra help; I don't think I am strong enough to carry you to where you need to go."
"I will wait but hurry, my time here is short."
Lazy Rider ran from the clinic to find help; as it happened, Robert was just leaving his cabin to take up the guard on the door as Lazy Rider exited at speed.
"What is it Lazy Rider?" Robert called to the younger teen.
"I need your help, Silas says his time is close and needs help to go to a place to watch his last sun rise and sing his death song."
"What do you need?"
"I need help to get him to his final place."
"Is he sure there is no other way?"
"He says it is his time to greet his ancestors; we must help."
"Come on then, I'll help you."
The two young men went back inside the clinic and saw that Silas had now almost got to his feet but he stood unsteadily as he grasped one end of the bed.
Robert hurried to the larger man's side, as he slipped his shoulder under the man's armpit to help hold him; Lazy Rider took one of the blankets and threw it over Silas shoulders then placed himself on the other side of the injured man.
When they made their slow way out of the clinic, the trio turned eastward and began the long and hard climb up the ridge to where Silas could sit and watch the sun rise.
The climb was hard and slow and they had to stop often to let Silas catch what little breath he had left. It was noticeable to both boys that the bandage around the man's waist was now showing even more blood as it seeped through with his exertions.
The first faint greyness of dawn was showing as the trio made the top of the ridge and found a clear place for Silas to sit. The two boys helped the dying man to sit comfortably facing the east; Lazy Rider adjusted the blanket around Silas shoulders to keep him warm as the man turned and looked at the pair.
"I would ask you both to watch over me as I sing my song and would also ask that you watch over my nephew, he may need help when he awakens."
"It will be done and we will watch over your spirit until it enters the spirit world." Lazy Rider replied.
The two boys stepped back a few paces and then sat to watch over Silas. It was only a few minutes later when Silas began to sing his death song; for the two watching boys it was obvious Silas was in a lot of pain and yet he continued to sing strongly through his pain.
The song continued as the first morning light grew stronger; in the clearing far below the first of those to awaken heard the strange song begin to echo over the still land. Only Ravenhawk saw the fast flash of a small blonde head run from the clearing, he made no attempt to stop Little Bear as the boy disappeared towards the far off singing.
The two watchers saw the first strong beam of sunlight strike the sitting figure of Silas just as his voice grew weak; from behind them came the sound of small running feet.
The two boys turned to see who it was and were taken totally by surprise as the one called Little Bear, ran from the trees; in his hands he carried a green necklace with a solitary black polished stone at its centre.
Ignoring the two boys, Little Bear ran up to the fast fading Silas; stepping in front of the dying man, Little Bear reached out and tenderly placed the unusual necklace over the man's head. After the necklace was placed, Little Bear dug into a leather pouch attached to his thong belt.
The two boys could only sit and stare at the small boy and what he was doing. After he had the pouch open, Little Bear's eyes began to glaze over; from his small mouth came ancient words that neither boy had ever heard before. Little Bear reached into the pouch and took what looked like tobacco and sage from it; next he continued his strange words and sprinkled the dried herbs over Silas head.
When Little Bear finished the last words, the two boys saw Silas slump and almost fall over but was stopped by a small hand from Little Bear; his eyes still showed their glazed look and neither boy wanted to interfere; this was something far beyond their comprehension and better left to the spirits and those who understood them. That Little Bear was under their influence there was no doubt and no one in their right mind interfered with them.
The last breath of Silas was heard by both waiting boys; as it finally left his mortal body so did the glazed look on Little Bears face; in a voice that was not his own, Little bear turned to the pair and said in a much deeper voice than he should have been able to use.
"Take up my Warrior and prepare him for his final journey; call for others of the people to help; my clan is now stronger for his passing and he will be honoured among his ancestors."
Little Bear suddenly shook himself and looked around; it was obvious he was not aware of where he was or why he was there; Robert laid a hand on the little boys shoulder.
"You did well Little Bear; time for you to go home, when you get back ask for some of the others to come up here and help us carry Silas back."
Little Bear just nodded in confusion and turned to run back down the ridge to the clearing. While Lazy Rider and Robert set about wrapping Silas body carefully in the blanket while they waited; far above they heard the early morning screech of an Eagle.
It was almost half an hour before they heard a number of people climbing up to the ridge top. There was a sudden sombre feel in the air as a number of the community appeared through the surrounding trees; at their head was Liam Senior, Ravenhawk and the rest of the council members; all of the other members were lined out behind them; it was a slow file that finally made it to the waiting teens.
Of the council members, only Antonio stood back as the other four joined Lazy Rider and Robert at the blanket covered bundle on the ground. As the last member of the Green Stone Clan made it to the top of the ridge there seemed to be a softening of the morning light and only the first twitters of rising birds could be heard.
The six standing around the body of Silas all bent together and took a hold on each side of the blanket; with a strength that came from some other source, they all lifted the blanket covered body and turned towards the small trail leading back down the ridge; the rest followed silently.
When the long line of the entourage appeared back at the clearing; there was a stillness in the air as though everything around was holding its breath.
At the door of the clinic stood the two wounded boys, the young Cheyenne, Running-horse; supporting the young Shoshone, Jonathan Blood. They watched as the file of clan members carefully carried the body of Silas towards them. They had heard the woeful death song and the empty bed where Silas had been told them who it was.
The two young girls stood to the side of the clinic doorway; they had both prepared the dead before as part of the training; it would be up to them to wash and Silas and get him ready for his last rest.
Solemnly, the six carrying Silas entered the clinic and laid him back on the empty bed, it was time to let the girls do their work while they went to organise the funeral and wake for the man.
Ravenhawk was now in something of a quandary; the time it would take to properly attend to Silas also made it a close run thing to prepare for the fast approaching summer solstice ceremony; neither could be delayed or ignored if they were to be done properly. Ravenhawk sighed, such was the lot of a Medicine Man, even though he was now expected to carry the authority of an Elder, he still felt like a boy.
It was the approach of Liam Senior that broke Ravenhawk out of his reverie.
"What do we need to do for Silas?" Liam asked him.
"He must be washed then dressed in his best clothing, we will then wrap him in a clean blanket and it will then be time to have prayers in the sweat lodge. After that and everyone has had time to mourn his passing, we need to find a special place that I can make sacred for the dead and he can be laid on top of a platform. I have a spare buffalo hide to cover him; we will then have to stand guard over his body. Normally it would be his own kin, but his nephew is still in a coma but I am sure others will stand in his place."
"Well just tell me what you need and I'll find it; he didn't have much when he came back; will it be alright if I let them dress him in one of my old uniforms; he was a marine after all and deserves to have it."
"Yes that would be good; it is the dress of a warrior and would serve him well in the next life as a spirit warrior."
"Anything else just let me know."
Liam Senior moved away towards his trailer, Ravenhawk was now left to ponder what had to be done next. Robert was the next one to approach him.
"We have a lot to do; Margret asked if the women can join in any ceremony for him; I had to tell her that we would spend most of our time in the sweat lodge and they are not allowed in there; what can we do?"
"We will have to make a Moon Lodge for them and then there is the place for Silas to rest; it will have to be made ready. For the women there is a problem though; we don't have any women that know how to use a Moon Lodge or anyone to tend their fire."
A small voice behind Ravenhawk spoke up.
"I'll tend their fire Poppa Raven; I know the prayers really good now."
"Ok, Little Bear but what about a drummer and they don't know the songs or prayers."
"Peter will be their drummer and they can say any prayer they know to help Silas."
"Yes that's a good idea. Robert, will you be our drummer? I will see if some of the new boys know how to watch over the fire; if we can do that then we can start to get everything ready; there's a lot of work to do before its time."
Robert nodded and then looked around; most of the people were just standing around waiting to find something to do. Ravenhawk decided to call them all together; it was time to get to work.
Twenty minutes later and there was a hive of activity in the clearing; even the two injured boys wanted to help as best they could; it was discovered that Running Horse knew the prayers and songs for the fire that had to be kept burning for the three days of mourning and ceremony; he was now tasked with getting everything ready for his part.
Ravenhawk was followed back up the ridge by Manuel and Philippe to where Silas had sung his final song; Ravenhawk had decided this would now become the official burial ground for the clan.
Ravenhawk looked around the area once the three of them reached the top of the ridge; the other two were carrying tools and waited for their instructions.
Ravenhawk then took the time to mark out the area that should set aside for the burial grounds, not only now for Silas, but for the future as well. There would come a time when others would join Silas to watch each sun rise in their spirit form.
Ravenhawk showed the two willing workers what scrub and small saplings to clear; after that he told them how they should construct the platform to rest Silas body on, he now had other duties to get to if all was to be ready in time.
When Ravenhawk got back to the clearing, he saw Liam Senior waiting for him.
"What do you need next Ravenhawk; the girls have the uniform and I need something to keep me busy."
"We will need a lot of river rocks for the burial ground at some time, I would like to have a totem pole up there as well but we don't have a carver."
"The rocks are no problem; I can get them with the digger and make a pile for everyone to take one when they go up there; what about Tristan and Michael, I think Samuel was saying they did little carvings for the young ones to play with; perhaps if you told them what you wanted they might be able to make your pole for you."
"That's a good idea; I'll ask them and see what they say. Now I have to find some people to start on a new sweat lodge for the women."
"No need; Robert told Joseph about it and they are already working on it on the other side of the clearing; they did say they would need you to say the prayers for the sacred circle when it was done though."
"Yes I can do that; now what's next?"
"I don't know but now I have some stones to find, see you later; good luck with whatever comes up next." Liam strode away chuckling to himself; it was good to be on the council and help where he could, but he didn't envy Ravenhawk having to organise their first funeral.
Ravenhawk now had to see the girls and how they were progressing with Silas body; before going there he went to his cabin to collect a few essentials.
In the cabin, Ravenhawk rolled up the buffalo hide, it would do to cover the body and was a part of Silas needs in the spirit world; next he began to pray to the spirit of his Grandfather; he needed a single Eagle feather and there were only the ones in his Grandfathers bonnet to be had at such short notice.
As his prayer ended, Ravenhawk looked around; on a wall peg sat his own smaller bonnet; it had only five feathers; next to it and neatly and safely rolled up on a shelf was his Grandfathers. Ravenhawk went to the rolled bundle and began to carefully unroll it; as he did so a single feather came loose and fell onto the bed where he was working; his prayer had been answered.
Ravenhawk looked again at his own smaller bonnet; it was as though something moved inside him; he now knew what he had to do.
After completing the unfurling of his Grandfathers bonnet; Ravenhawk lifted it up onto another wooden peg, it would need time to settle before wearing. As with his own bonnet; which was now destined for Little Bear; none of the Eagle Feathers had the government tag in them.
In all his long years, his Grandfather had fought the government to not put the tags in his feathers; twice the government agents had tried to arrest and then confiscate his Grandfathers bonnet; twice they had been met with over a thousand armed warriors. It was stupid of the agents to try it at a Pow-Wow.
Ravenhawk had asked his Grandfather why he had fought the government over it; the old man's answer was as usual short and to the point.
"Creator does not need the approval of the white man's laws to offer a gift to his people."
The subject was closed; Ravenhawk smiled at the memory and also the glint in the old man's eyes as he spoke those words.
Taking up the buffalo robe and the single feather; Ravenhawk went out towards the clinic. On his arrival he saw the two girls had almost finished; they were just wrapping Silas body in a clean patterned blanket he recognised as coming from his own cabin; Antonio must have got it for them.
Ravenhawk also saw leaning against the wall was a handmade stretcher, it was there to carry Silas to the platform. Pulling the stretcher down from where it was leaning against the wall; Ravenhawk lay the thick buffalo hide over it, there was enough left to drape some over the body as well.
His next task was a lot more simple; before the girls could fully encase the body in the blanket; Ravenhawk called a halt. Next he stepped up and, with care and reverence; he began to plait the Eagle feather into a few strands of Silas hair; it was to mark him in the spirit world as a warrior. The clan now had their own Spirit Warrior to watch over them and guard them against enemies.
When all the preparations had been finalised; Silas body was carefully carried outside to the rest of the waiting people. Each person had been told by Joseph what was to happen next and so all had a small gift for Silas before he went to his rest.
The Eagle feather, buffalo hide and patterned blanket were the gifts of Ravenhawk and Antonio; With Liam Senior leading the way and, after placing one of his heavy combat knives on the stretcher beside Silas hand; everyone else filed by.
The gifts were many and varied; from the smaller children it was sometimes a small coloured stone or fresh cut flower; from the women it was carefully made necklaces or small bundles of herbs. The men and teens each had their own small gift; Joseph's old bow; from the other teens were handmade arrows. From each person there was something that was special to them and that they thought would carry Silas safely and provide for his needs in the spirit world.
The single gift that truly caught Ravenhawk's eye was a small beautifully hand carved doll that was placed beside Silas head; it was put there by the little girl, Maria. Ravenhawk asked her as they began the final preparations for the climb where she had got it; her reply was conformation that the two young teens could do the work he would need; he would have to speak to Tristan or Michael.
Although some did not fully understand the meaning of what was happening; they were all happy to go along with everyone else; the small gift giving ceremony soon came to an end and it was time to carry Silas high up the ridge to his platform for his final resting place.
As there were no true relatives able to watch over the body for the next few days; each of the teens had volunteered to take the place of the still unconscious Walks-slow; they all felt it was the least they could do for such a brave man.
As the procession began; each person except the eight carrying the stretcher, lifted a stone from the pile set by Liam; these they had promised to carry to the ridge for Ravenhawk to place around what was to become sacred ground.
The climb up the ridge was long and hard but no one faltered as they walked and carried the rigid stretcher with four to a side for stability; the rest of the people of the Green Stone Clan slowly lined up behind and followed in silence; even the youngest felt the need for silence and respect.
Once on top of the ridge at the selected place; everyone looked at what had been done by Manuel and Philippe. The platform was about six feet high and the ground around was cleared of any debris, only the stones placed by Ravenhawk earlier were left in place.
As each person came on top of the ridge, Ravenhawk pointed to where they should place the stone they had so diligently carried up; there was soon a large circle marked by widely spaced stones; at the centre was the first platform. They all knew others would join it as time last; it was the only inevitable end for all of them when their time came.
Ravenhawk felt the weight of his Grandfathers bonnet on his head and, even though a small rivulet of sweat crept from his forehead and ran down his cheek; Ravenhawk took his place and began the prayers to carry Silas spirit through the mists and to the side of his ancestors.
The slow and solemn drum beat echoed out over the empty valley below; with the stretcher now placed high up on the platform and the head of Silas facing east to watch each sun rise; Ravenhawk's young voice rang out in the prayers for the dead and the safe journey for the man's spirit.
The return trip to the clearing was silent and a little solemn; there was an air of loss by all of them even though they had not known Silas for long; to some it was a reminder that they were not as safe as they could be; as the time passed there would be other threats to their chosen way of life; it was a silent reminder for them all.
Robert and Ravenhawk had helped Margret set up the Moon Lodge as best they knew how; it was a surprise for them both that Consuela willingly helped Margret. At the place for the alter, the women had placed small gifts and even photographs of their families that they would never see again; it was a fitting tribute to the ones that had passed during the sickness of the virus.
It was late afternoon when all was ready for both sweat lodges; there were far too many to fit into the men's lodge at one time but there was also the need for guards while others were inside. The men divided up into two groups; while one was in the sweat lodge, the others would stand guard; only the fire keepers and Ravenhawk would keep their place throughout the ceremony for the next three days.
For the next three days the clearing was silent apart from the sound of the drums and the voices of those inside the sweat lodge as they sang the songs and sent the prayers to the spirit world. Those detailed as guards stood silently as they performed their duties; there were only soft spoken words as they changed with others so they could also take part in the lodge.
The Moon Lodge was quieter except for Peter's drum and the occasional soft voice of one of the women inside as she said a small prayer; sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish. No one would interfere, it was the women's lodge and they could conduct their prayers as they felt was right for them and the occasion.
On the third day, the drums fell silent; the fires were banked and Ravenhawk said the last prayers as he closed both circles; Consuela and Samuel had left the lodges earlier in the day; they had to work most of the day to get the feast ready; they were fortunate that the small ones wanted to help in any way they could. By late afternoon everything was ready. The big table had been brought outside and was piled high with food; for those old enough, Manuel had placed a case of cold beer and a single bottle of Tequila; they would send Silas off with a good party.
Ravenhawk looked around the clearing; he could still feel that they all carried the loss of Silas in their minds and the realisation that there was true danger out there had brought them closer together. Ravenhawk also suddenly remembered he only had three days until the summer solstice ceremony. Ravenhawk smiled to himself, now he was beginning to understand the pressure on a Medicine Elder; or in his case, one who was trying to be a Medicine Elder.