Castle Roland

The Translator

by David McLeod


Chapter 5

Published: 2 Feb 15

The Translator

by David McLeod

A Hidden Place

"The Grand Lodge will meet," the Shaman repeated, "but not immediately. A great deal of preparation is required, and the time must be correct. The boy is here?"

Phillip led the Shaman to Argon, who had waited impatiently in the darkness outside the Shaman's hogan. When Phillip approached, Argon ran to him and hugged him. "I was afraid," he said.

"I'm sorry, Argon," Phillip said. "I will not leave you alone, again. Now, we must listen to this man. He is a great man; he is the one who knows about fortiamus."

Argon clung to Phillip while the Shaman spoke. Phillip tried to translate what the Shaman said. The vocabulary the boys had developed was insufficient for the details, but Argon understood enough. He would be going home, but not right away.

"Where can we stay?" Phillip asked. "The state police will look for us." Although the Athabasca were a sovereign nation within another nation, it would be politically inconvenient to deny the state police an opportunity to question Phillip's friends and to search his home.

"In a sacred place," the Shaman answered. "One the state police will not approach."

"Xajiinai?" Phillip asked, giving the name of the location traditionally believed to be the place from which the Athabasca had emerged into the current world. It was in what the Hispanglo geographers had named the La Plata Mountains.

"Ha'tchi (You have spoken well.) That is an excellent guess," the Shaman replied. "But, no."

"Spider Rock?" Phillip asked, naming the central feature of the canyon in the heart of the Athabascan homeland.

"Another excellent guess, but again, no."

Phillip pondered the possibilities. Something his uncle had once said gelled in his mind. "Not Chaco?" he said.

The Shaman merely nodded.

"But, it's nothing but ruins," Phillip said.

"Not entirely," the Shaman replied. "We have preserved two places: tsebida 't'ini'ani and the kiva at Casa Rinconada, which has been rebuilt. The Hispanglos are no longer allowed past Pueblo Bonito or on the rim of the canyon.

"You will live at tsebida 't'ini'ani until the ceremony. You will receive instruction and undergo purification." He paused. "I don't suppose the boy has made a vision quest?"

Phillip struggled to convey the concepts to Argon. After several minutes of back-and-forth, he turned to the Shaman. "I'm pretty sure not. Should he?"

"It is not necessary," the Shaman said. "Still, I would like to know what his spirit guide would be. Come, we will gather supplies."

Argon's amazement when he saw the Shaman's horses was far, far greater than when Phillip had pulled the shaking boy across a busy highway during their escape. In Argon's mind, the automobiles and trucks were merely monsters; the horses represented vast riches.

"Much, much gold," he said. Phillip was puzzled. The Shaman's horses were fine examples of those the Athabascans had created by interbreeding the ice-age horses native to the continent with those brought in by the Spanish and, later, the Arabs. On the other hand, they did not have the sleek appearance of the racing horses of the Kentucky, the gentle gait of the walking horses of the Creek, or the agility of the quarter horses of the Cherokee. Perhaps Argon just hasn't seen many horses, Phillip thought. Although he rides well.

Several hours later, the Shaman, Phillip, and Argon sat alone by the cave dwelling called tsebida 't'ini'ani. The winter sun, low in the sky, gave little warmth. The boys were bundled in blankets. Phillip was translating, haltingly at times, the questions and answers of both the Shaman and Argon.

"You will see secrets and mysteries beyond those of the Lodge we both belong to," Phillip struggled to fit concepts into their limited common vocabulary. "Do you promise–as you promised to keep the secrets of your Lodge–to keep the secrets of ours?"

"I will," Argon replied, "on my life."

The Shaman summarized, "We will try to send you home, to your world. We believe we know how, but we have not done this in many lifetimes. We may fail. It may be that you will remain here. It may be that you will go to another place not your home. We believe that you will go to a place where you will be in harmony; and, we believe that will be your own world. We do not know. Do you understand the danger? Will you accept the risk?"

This is the key point, Phillip thought. He tried very hard to make the risk clear without, however, frightening Argon. After several minutes of back and forth, Argon said, "Comprendamo. Comprendamo."

Argon paused, took Phillip's hand–to the taller boy's embarrassment–and said, "Vade mecum. (Come with me.)"

"He wants you to go with him, Spartus," the Shaman said. "I believe he loves you, even more than Johnny Two-Horses loves you."

Phillip's breath caught in his throat. Blood left his brain and the world darkened. He would have fallen had the Shaman not caught him.

"Ya-ta-hey, Phillip." A voice from behind him startled Phillip and he nearly dropped his Walkman. He turned his head.

"Ya-ta-hey, Johnny," Phillip said, cautiously. Johnny Two-Horses was two years older than Phillip, and 40 pounds of muscle heavier. He was the son and grandson of Councilmen, great-grandson of a Chief, born to the Clear Water Clan–one of the First Four clans. Johnny had never spoken to Phillip before. In fact, he'd never acknowledged that boy's existence. Boys whispered rumors that Johnny learned magic from the Shaman. A few of the bolder ones said that Johnny had killed a boy.

"You headed for your crib?" Johnny asked. Phillip had recently moved from his mother's home to one of the many abandoned trailers scattered over the reservation. He didn't know how Johnny would have known that, or why he would care.

Phillip nodded. What's going on? Phillip wondered. He looked around. The last school bus was turning onto the highway. He and Johnny were alone.

"I'm headed that way," Johnny said. "I'll take you. Come on, hop in." The older boy gestured toward his truck.

"Uh, I don't know–" Phillip said.

"Not afraid of me, are you Phillip Windrider?" Johnny asked.

"Uh, no. I mean–" Phillip stammered.

"Good. Get in." Johnny opened the passenger door.

Phillip's heart pounded and sweat poured from his armpits, but he obeyed.

The bench seat was wide, but Johnny's arm was long. Phillip jumped when Johnny reached over and slapped his thigh. "Don't be afraid of me, Phillip Windrider," he said. Johnny squeezed the younger boy's leg firmly, almost painfully. Phillip jumped again; he stared at Johnny. Phillip's eyes widened when Johnny grinned at him before putting both hands on the steering wheel and turning off the paved road.

"Got to stop by my hogan, first," Johnny explained. He kept his eyes forward. Phillip was unable to read anything in his face.

Johnny's hogan was haunted. Everyone knew that skinwalkers–the ghosts of ancient enemies–roamed the arroyos and the rocks, appearing among the tumbleweeds and cactus and agave, the only things that grew in the desert. Right now, however, that didn't matter to Phillip. He was much more afraid of Johnny than he was of skinwalkers.

Johnny stopped the truck in front of his hogan–a traditional, eight-sided wattle and mud dwelling. The older boy got out of the truck and walked around it. He opened the passenger door. Phillip felt darkness closing in. He nearly didn't hear what Johnny said.

"Don't be afraid of me, Phillip Windrider."

Phillip stumbled when Johnny urged him out of the truck. He felt Johnny's strong arms supporting him–and then embracing him. What–? Johnny put his hands on Phillip's buttocks and pulled their bodies together. A surge of sexual excitement blew away Phillip's fear. Then, the fear returned. He knows I'm gay! Phillip thought. He's going to hurt me…hurt me…hurt me… Phillip began to cry.

"I won't hurt you, Phillip Windrider," Johnny said gently, and then kissed the tears from Phillip's cheeks.

Phillip lay on a wool blanket under the lanai. His skin drank the late afternoon sunlight.

"Phillip," Johnny began. "This was the first time you had lain with a boy, but not the first time you'd thought of it. Am I correct?"

Phillip's throat was dry and his voice was husky. "Yes. I've never, but I've wanted to, so much, so long–"

"How did you know?" Phillip continued when he'd found his voice.

"Phillip Windrider, I know you have made a vision quest. That is the first mystery of our people. You have been initiated into kiva. That is the second mystery. You know you may ask to be initiated into the Builders Lodge. That is not the third mystery; it is the fourth. Today, you were initiated into the third mystery."

Phillip propped himself on his elbow and looked hard at Johnny's face. "You're serious, aren't you? I mean, you've already had sex with me and you know I liked it, so you don't need some line about mysteries. You really mean that sex is a mystery like the others?" Phillip knew of the Builders Lodge; his uncle had told him that he would be sponsored in if he wanted. He knew that the mysteries of the vision quest and the kiva had metaphysical aspects. He knew that the Shaman's magic wasn't sham.

Johnny nodded. "Yes. It's a real mystery and one as old as our people. Not," he grinned, "not that I don't want to have sex with you, again. Soon.

"Seriously, though. About nine in ten of the boys of our nation are circumcised. About eight in ten of those go on vision quest. About eight in ten of those are initiated into kiva. Only one in ten of those are initiated into the third mystery. How I knew that you were a candidate is a part of the mystery that you will learn in time. Also, when you are ready, you will meet others. For the present, you must tell no one." Seeing doubt on Phillip's face, he added "Will you trust me, Phillip Windrider?"

Johnny fought hard to keep his voice level. He did not tell Phillip that only one in ten of the boys who were initiated was deemed fit to advance to higher levels of the mystery. He did not say that perhaps one in ten of these failed to pass the higher levels. He did not say what was the price of failure.

"Johnny, they say you killed a boy," Phillip said. Johnny had taken him back to town. Phillip was standing outside the truck, on the sidewalk in front of the Jewelry Co-Op. The nearest person was twenty yards away; others went in and out of the grocery store and post office. No one was close enough to hear. Phillip was not in danger.

Johnny's face darkened. He pushed in the clutch and jammed the gear lever into first. Then he relaxed. He put the transmission back into neutral and let off the clutch. "Billy Appaloosa," he said. "They say I killed Billy Appaloosa."

Phillip nodded. He'd heard the name linked to Johnny, before, and when Johnny said it, all the stories and rumors came together in his mind.

"Billy Appaloosa died because he hurt Zhang Redrock; he hurt him badly. He beat that little boy–crippled him. He beat him because Zhang's father is Pan-Asian and because Billy was a sick, evil, twisted person," Johnny said. "They forgave every evil thing Billy did, saying he didn't know better because he had no grandfather to give him the stories. Each time he was forgiven, he got meaner and meaner."

Johnny's voice was so soft that Phillip unconsciously leaned through the window of the truck to hear. He was so intent on what he was hearing that he didn't see Johnny's hand move toward his face. When Johnny touched his cheek, Phillip's heart stopped. The blood drained from his face.

"I said I wouldn't hurt you, Phillip Windrider," Johnny said. "You're late for work."

Phillip borrowed a horse from his uncle, and rode to Johnny's hogan. He gave me a gift of trust, and I repaid it with doubt, Phillip told himself. Skinwalkers or not, invited or not, I have to ask him to forgive me.

Phillip reached the crest of a low hill. He saw Johnny's hogan about 50 yards away. Past the hogan were outbuildings that Phillip had not seen on his first visit. A windmill stood beside a barn. Electric lines dropped to the roof of a Quonset hut behind the hogan. Why did I not see these when Johnny brought me here? Were they hidden behind the hill? Or were they hidden by my fear?

Johnny's truck sat in front of the hogan, but Phillip expected that it would be. He'd seen Johnny at the feed store loading bags into the truck, and figured he'd be going home afterwards. I hope he's alone, Phillip thought. He flicked the reins; the horse whinnied loudly, but did not move. Now, to wait.

A figure brushed aside the blanket that covered the door to the hogan and stepped into the sunlight. By its build and demeanor, Phillip knew it to be Johnny. That boy stepped onto the hardpan in front of the hogan, and gestured. Phillip clucked to the horse and walked it down the hill. When the horse reached level ground, Phillip halted it, and swung down from the saddle. Leading the horse, he approached until he stood about 10 yards from Johnny.

"Ya-ta-hey, Johnny," Phillip said, cautiously.

"Ya-ta-hey, Phillip," Johnny said. "Not afraid of skinwalkers? Not afraid of me?"

"Yes," Phillip said. "Yes to both questions. But I'm more afraid of what I have done, and where it might lead me."

"Oh?" Johnny offered no help with his flat reply.

"Johnny Two-Horses, it was not my place to ask about–uh, you know–" Despite his intentions, Phillip faltered.

"No, I don't know," Johnny said. Again, his voice was flat and emotionless. He could have been reciting a list of groceries.

Phillip struggled against the emotions that were clouding his mind. "I should not have accused you of killing someone," he said.

"Why? Because it might hurt my feelings?" Johnny asked. His voice was still a monotone.

A light came on in Phillip's head. "In part," he said, confidently. "It might hurt your feelings that I didn't return the trust you offered to me. More important, I have broken harmony. Johnny, I am sorry. I still fear you, a little, but I do trust you, and I want your trust. Will you forgive me? Will you offer me your trust, again?"

Johnny nodded. "The stock tank under the windmill has water. Water your horse and hitch him. Then come inside." Johnny turned, and stepped back into the darkness of the hogan.

Phillip tied the horse's reins to the hitching rail, and walked toward the opening of the hogan. It faced the east, the direction of the rising sun. The afternoon sun was bright in Phillip's face. The doorway of the hogan was swathed in blackness. Phillip ordered his stomach to stop quivering. The order was ignored, yet Phillip walked steadily into the darkness.

He stopped inside the doorway to give his eyes a chance to accommodate to the darkness. Before they could do so, his arms were grasped. Strong hands pulled him a half step forward. Phillip willed himself not to cry out. "You are strong, Phillip Windrider," Johnny said. His breath struck Phillip's forehead. "You will become stronger. I forgive you."

Johnny held Phillip immobile for a long time before he spoke again. "Phillip Windrider, I want your trust. More than that, I want . . . well, that will have to wait. Will you stay the night with me? Will you share yourself with me under the lanai tonight?"

"Tonight? When the skinwalkers–" Phillip began. "Yes," he concluded firmly.

Johnny and Phillip tended the horses: Johnny's two, and the one Phillip's uncle had given him. Phillip was cleaning the currycomb and discarding the horsehair onto the ground. "Please save the hair. Here," Johnny added, showing Phillip a bucket.

"What for?" Phillip asked. He knew that horsehair had many uses, but couldn't imagine what Johnny would do with it.

Johnny looked at Phillip out of the corners of his eyes. He made a decision. "I'll show you."

Johnny led the way to the Quonset hut and opened the combination lock that held the door closed. Phillip was puzzled. Only a blanket hung over the door to Johnny's hogan; it couldn't be locked. The barn didn't even have a door. What was in the shed that was so valuable? He followed Johnny inside. He blinked when Johnny flipped a switch, and blue-white florescent light flooded the room. It took him a minute to realize what he was seeing.

"Potter's wheel, kiln, boxes of broken glass," Phillip said. He looked from side to side, examining each corner of the shed. "Shelves of pottery–ancient style, but in too excellent condition to be old–and beads. Your work?"

"Yeah," Johnny said. "Now you know where I get my money, and why I don't hang out so much."

Johnny and I–we're different from the other boys, Phillip thought. Most of the boys live on their allowance from the oil and coal and uranium the nation sells to the Hispanglos–and on the profits from the casinos. Not one in ten takes one of the scholarships from the lottery, and even fewer are willing to work at our industries. Is that how–?

Johnny interrupted Phillip's thoughts. "Let me show you what I do with the horsehair." His voice was animated. "See, the horsehair is mixed with the clay. When the pot is fired, the hair burns away, and leaves random designs. It's something I learned from the A'shiwi," Johnny explained. "I tried it with glass, but all I got were beads with horsehair inside them. Like a bug in amber."

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