The Ransom of Little Deer
Billy Black and his father were not the first Native Peoples that Carlisle had come in contact with since coming to America. That noble honor belonged to Little Deer, and he would never forget her . . . or her courage.
This story is told from Carlisle's POV so there are no notations. You're in his head always.
9. Sacred Mysteries
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I returned to the cabin after disposing of the fur trapper's body. Before committing his remains to the earth, I took from him what useful items he had, namely his fire starting kit, rifle, pistol, powder, and shooting bag as well as his tomahawk. While I had no use for such things myself, I had no doubt that my companion might have need of them. In fact, while I detested fire arms to no end, I also realized that Little Deer needed some means of self defense. This would be especially true once we began our journey east, as I had no chose but to leave her unattended while I hunted.
As I approached the cabin at a brisk walk, I noticed that Little Deer had her new horse picketed in the scruffy bushes near the house. If she was truly intent on keeping the poor beast, I was going to have to construct a fenced paddock for him as well as some form of shed to shelter him from the elements. When she looked up and saw me coming and caring a rifle, her eyes went wide and her complexion paled. Immediately she put herself between me and the horse.
"Relax, child," I soothed. "I have no intention of shooting your horse. You've made it quite clear that he is a gift of the Creator . . . even the children of Thunder Man fear the Creator's wrath." I put down my load near the small tree where she and had neatly stashed the gelding's saddle and other equipment. "Incidentally, have you considered a name for him?"
She pointed to the sky, at one of the fluffy grey-white clouds drifting lazily across the vast azure expanse. "I do not know the English." she scowled in confusion as she mouthed the phrase.
"Cloud," I provided for her and was rewarded for my effort with one of her magical smiles.
"Will you tend his wounds now?" she asked.
Cloud's wounded shoulder was facing me, his dapple gray coat was caked in dried blood, two ugly bullet wounds puckered his flesh, and the swelling from the trauma of his injuries was clearly visible. The wound needed cleaning and, if possible, the bullets need to be removed. As much as I wanted to help, for Little Deer's sake, getting near enough to the horse to treat him would likely be impossible.
"Ayala, if I attempt to approach Cloud, he's going to become agitated again. Animals instinctively dislike being in close proximity to Sky Beings." I told her as I ran the fingers of my right hand through my hair; it was one of the human nervous ticks I'd picked up over the years. She didn't say anything, but I could tell by her expression that she didn't believe me.
I shook my head. "Observe," I instructed with a sigh and then I took several deliberate steps toward the horse. Cloud's reaction was immediate, his ears went flat against his head and his eye rolled back in fear as he pranced nervously on the end of his lead rope. He reared up, tugging at his bonds in an attempt to free himself to flee. Finally, in extreme desperation he kicked out with his hind feet to fend me off. When I move away again he slowly settled down.
"You see how he reacted and this in spite of being in pain," I began. "He's not going to let me near him, Ayala."
"Then how will you tend his wounds and make him well?"
How indeed, I wondered and then it came to me. "He obviously trusts you, so you are going to tend him," I told her bluntly. "I'm going to tell you what must be done and you will do it . . . you're going to be my hands."
"I cannot," she insisted. "I am not a healer."
"Do you want to help him?" I asked insistently. When she nodded I continued, "Then you must trust me . . . and you must trust yourself."
I watch her consider my proposal for several minutes before she nodded again. "Very good," I was pleased to see her being sensible. I pointed to a set of hobbles that had fallen out of the saddle bags. "Put those on his feet so he doesn't kick you while you work and shorten his lead rope to keep him from throwing his head around. While you do that, I'll get some water and clean rags."
I watched her pick up the hobbles and then look up at me, protest danced like tongues of jade fire in her eyes. She was about to say something stubborn when I waved her silent.
"Please don't argue with me, child." I was careful not to raise my voice above the gentle conversational tone I always used, but I allowed a clear note of warning to resonate through it. The combination was effective, while I still saw protest in her eyes she took the hobbles and returned to Cloud's side. Confident that she would do as I had instructed, I left her and went to gather the supplies she would need.
When I returned with the bucket of water, rags, and a few other things Cloud was hobbled and securely snubbed to the tree he stood under. I nodded my approval but it did nothing to relieve the anxiety written boldly on Little Deer's face.
I sighed loudly as I beckoned her towards me. Horses were and unpredictable lot, even the most sedate among them, when frightened or injured, could become dangerous. I once treated a blacksmith who was kicked in the sternum while shoeing a five year old mare he had hand raised from a foal. She had gotten spooked by a mouse moving in the hay. There was little I could do for him and the man eventually died of his injuries.
Your fear has gotten the better of you once again; I scolded myself as I recalled the way I'd yelled at Little Deer earlier. When she came to take the water and rags from me I didn't immediately release the bucket to her. She looked up at me and I noted her confusion. I had captured her attention and I intended to make use of it.
"I raised my voice to you down by the stream, and I spoke a bit harshly to you just moments ago . . . I don't want you to get the impression that I'm somehow angry with you, because I'm not." I paused for a moment as I tried to pull the swirling current of thoughts and raw emotions I was experiencing into something that at least bordered on coherent. I couldn't remember ever feeling this strongly about anyone before. "I have lived a very austere and lonely life to date, Ayala. I have some friends among the other Sky People and I have had fleeting contact with humans when I treat them as a healer, but for the most part, I have wander this world in solitude.
"You are the first human I've spent any considerable time with and . . . well; I've grown quite attached to you. I've never had these feelings before and they're very new and very powerful . . . far more powerful than you could possibly imagine," I paused again as I searched her eyes for some hint that she understood where I was going with this. "What I mean to say is . . . if something were to happen to you, it would cause me a great deal of pain and sorrow and . . . I'm not so sure that I would handle those dark feelings very well."
We were both silent for the span of several of Little Deer's heartbeats. The quiet made me suddenly aware that I hadn't taken a breath or exhaled since I finished my confession. I was relieved when she graced me with another one of her warm smiles, but then it faded and she shyly cast her gaze down towards the ground between us.
"I would also feel great pain and sadness if something bad happened to you." She admitted in her faint breathy whisper. In spite of having her head down, I still noticed the sudden bloom of color in her cheeks and the increase in heart rate that accompanied it. "I have no father and no mother, I am without a tribe and a people . . . I am an outcast and an orphan. You, Panther Eyes, are the only family I have now."
"Look at me," I insisted gently as I set the bucket of water down. When she looked up I could see the moister glistening in her eyes as her tears threatened. I pulled her into my embrace, "I love you Little Deer and as long as I live, you will never be alone in this world."
I paused briefly and took a deep breath, what I was about to do would change mine and Ayala's lives forever. While this step was a common one among my kind, to my knowledge it had never been done with a human before. If any among my brethren ever found us out, we would both be killed. Still I felt strongly about this, it had rightness to it that I couldn't deny. It would give me the thing that I craved as much as blood and it would provide Little Deer with what she needed most in her life . . . a family.
In a clear commanding voice, I spoke aloud the formal words that would bind her life to mine for all time. "From this day hence let it be known that Little Deer of the Sioux is under my protection. I take her life into my keeping, to be treated as if it were my very own. She is my cherished sister, the beloved sibling of my heart, and I am her loyal brother. We are, from this day and forever, bound together; one in heart and spirit. We are a . . . a family sealed by this oath. So let it be for all time until heaven and earth pass away and the universe is no more"
The sound of my voice made the world around us vibrate with power as it echoed off the every surface in the immediate vicinity. The words hung heavy in the cold morning air and continued to ring for several minutes after they were spoken. Though she was a human, from the moment I uttered the formal words of binding, we were official a coven . . . a family. The bond that now existed between us could only be broken by her death or my destruction.
Under my watchful instruction, Little Deer cleaned and tended Cloud's wounded shoulder. With some effort I ascertained that what I first interpreted as two distinct wounds was actually a single injury. He had been shot only once and the bullet had entered and then exited again. I was thankful for this as I wasn't looking forward to instructing my sister in the gory business of surgically removing bullets.
Later that morning she asked me to take for a walk in the woods. At first I thought this was because she needed to clear her head from the morning's emotion fraught events, but I soon found out differently. She brought a small basket with her and proceeded to collect the roots and dried remains of certain plants.
"What are those for?" I asked curiously.
"A poultice for Cloud's shoulder, to keep the evil out of the wound," She answered as she dug through the snow and picked several nondescript pale green shoots.
"I thought you said you weren't a healer." I playfully reminded her of her earlier words.
She looked up from her work, her expression was dangerously serious. "I am not a healer; I do not know the sacred chants that drive evil spirits away from wounds and help the body heal. I do not know the songs that bind the souls of new babies to their bodies so that they stay with their parents. I do not know the rituals that help the souls of the honored dead find their way home along the spirit road, or those that drive vengeful ghost away.
"I am a daughter of the Sioux, and as such, I was taught by my mother to make a poultice to pack in wounds so that I might become a good wife and care for my husband and children."
"I'm sorry Ayala; I didn't mean that the way it sounded." My apology somehow didn't sound like nearly enough. "I have every respect for you and for your traditions."
When she finished gathering what she needed, we began our walk back to the cabin. Half way there the sound of breaking branches and crunching snow made both of us stop and turn. We were treated to an awe inspiring sight as the most magnificent white stag I had ever encountered stepped gracefully from a thicket some twenty odd paces away. He stood there for several minutes and all the while he seemed to be staring directly at Little Deer with his huge pink eyes. Then just as suddenly as he appeared he disappeared, bounding off into the snowy forest.
When Little Deer turned back to face me, she wore a broad grin on her face. "Cloud will get well and be strong in time for spring." She informed me triumphantly and the she started off at a trot toward the cabin again.
I stood watching her for a few minutes as I tried to work out what just happened. I, of course, had no doubt that the horse would recover from his injury. It was a flesh wound and not at all serious provided I could keep infection out of it. Yet I knew I was missing something very important. I urged myself forward and caught up to her in a few quick strides.
"Would you mind telling me what that was all about?" I inquired.
"I should not speak of the sacred mysteries, it is forbidden," she began shyly as we walked on. "But since you are a Sky Being, I suppose it would be alright.
"My very first night in the woman's lodge, I was scared because I thought I might die . . . I cried and begged the Creator to make it stop. Sweet Grass laughed at me and told me I was a silly stupid girl, that all women did this, at every moon, but I was still scared.
"I lay awake in my bed for a long time, afraid to go to sleep because I thought I would not wake up again. Finally I could not stay awake any longer and I fell asleep. I had a vision/dreamed that night, White Stage came to me and told me he would be my guide and he would look after me . . . ‘I will be your guardian and ensure your safety until the Creator can find a suitable ‘Keeper' for you. This is because you are not like the rest of the People and you will need much looking after', this is what he said.
"When Jack took me, I thought he was my ‘Keeper' but I could not understand why the Creator would have White Stage protect me only to give me to such a brutal man. I begged to see my guardian, I begged the Creator for answers, but for the whole year I lived at the trading post, White Stag never came. I thought that was my answer until Jack hit his head and died.
"A week after I ran away, White Stage came to me in a dream and told me to watch for him, that he would come for me and show me the true path. The day I found you in the clearing, I had been following White Stag through the woods for three days. I thought he was taking me back to Red Pony, but . . . I think he was taking me to you. He disappeared just before I stepped out of the trees and saw you."
"Then why did you run away?" I had often wondered this but had refrained from asking. I had assumed, at the time that it was because she knew what I was.
"I expect to encounter White Stag as he is my guardian. I even go on long walks sometimes and look for him," She answered honestly. "You are a being of power, I did not expect to find a son of Thunder Man dressed in the robes of a rainbow and standing in a clearing. It frightened me."
There were many mysteries in the world, things that even I would never claim understanding of. While I had been brought up Christian and still clung to those beliefs, I wasn't one to mock the spirituality of others. Something, some force beyond my limited ability to comprehend, had obviously brought Little Deer and me together. If it were possible for God to speak to Moses through a burning bush, make the mighty Nile River run as blood, and give the power of human speech to a lowly donkey then why could He not use a white deer to lead a frightened and desperate girl into the safety of my keeping?
"I think perhaps you might be right, child," I sighed. "I only wish I had realized that fact before returning you to your tribe. It would have saved you from an awful a beating."
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