The sign outside read: Native American Museum of Southern Maine.
This is the place , she thought, opening the door. Once inside, she walked around through the exhibits, then approached the docent who was sitting at the front desk.
"Hi, I'm hoping I can get some help identifying an artifact I that I think could be Indian, maybe Abenaki."
The woman smiled indulgently. "Where did you find it?"
"On the beach at Mateguas," Terri replied, pulling the handkerchief from her purse. "It's a knife with carvings and I think it's made of some kind of bone."
Carefully, she unfolded the cloth, revealing the small blade.
The woman's eyes widened in surprise. "Hmmmm," she murmured. "I think you probably should speak with our antiquarian. I bet he'd like to see this."
She indicated for Terri to rewrap the knife as she picked up the phone. After speaking briefly, she directed Terri to a room in the back. "He's in there. You just go right on in. He's expecting you."
Terri thanked her, walked to the door, and lightly knocked.
"Come on in."
As she opened the door, an old man sitting at an antique roll-top desk, swiveled in his chair to greet her and motioned to her to take a seat across from him.
"I am called Mekwi Mikoa by The People," the man said, smiling at her, a twinkle in his eyes. "In your English this means Red Squirrel. But you may call me Charlie. Now how may I help you, young lady?"
Terri grinned, instantly feeling a connection with this man. "I have an artifact I found on the beach on Mateguas Island. It looks quite old and the woman at the front desk said you might be able to tell me something about it."
As she spoke, she pulled from her purse the handkerchief that concealed the bone knife. She laid it gently on the antiquarian's desk and slowly unwrapped it.
Lying on the white cloth, the little knife appeared quite ordinary and unassuming, but the man who called himself Charlie peered down at it intently, his face alight with wonder .
"You say you found this on the beach?" he asked, his tone full of disbelief.
Knowing that this was only a half-lie, Terri nodded. "Yes, I found it at low tide a couple of days ago."
Slowly, Charlie reached into his desk and took out a pair of latex gloves. Once he donned the gloves, he picked up the knife examining it closely in the light of a magnifying lamp on his desk.
Terri watched as he ran his fingers almost reverently over the symbols carved on the handle and then seemed to weigh it in his palm as if checking its balance. When he was finished, he placed it back down on the cloth, nodding solemnly.
"This is a sacred knife," he said softly, "and it is very, very old. Did you notice how it warms when you touch it?"
Terri nodded, surprised that he, too, felt the heat of the blade.
"And the symbols: do you see the moon, the thunderbolt, and the teardrop? These, child, are the symbols of Mateguas, God of the Dead, and they contain very powerful magic."
Terri looked at him questioningly. "Magic? What magic? What is it used for?"
The man smiled. "It is the magic of the first creator. But before we talk about magic, let me tell you a story. This tale I'm about to relate to you has been passed on from generation to generation and is at the center of my tribe's belief system."
The man got up, walked over to a table in the corner of the room, and poured himself a cup of coffee. "Can I get a cup for you, child?" he asked.
Terri shook her head and smiled as he sat back down, sipping the dark brew.
"Ah, that's good. Strong black coffee is an elixir of the gods, my dear."
He looked back down at the knife and then continued with his tale. "The Abenaki call the creator spirit, Tabaldak. This name means 'The Owner' and, out of the dust of his body, he created Glooskap and his twin brother, Malsumis. Glooskap was endowed with the power to create a good world but his brother had no such intention. No, Malsumis - whose totem was the wolf - was the destroyer."
Terri looked at him, puzzled. "The destroyer? How so?"
The old Indian smiled. "I'll give you an example. Wanting to give his human brethren a thing of beauty, Glooskap created the rose bush with its magnificent blossoms. But as soon as soon he gave this gift to The People, Malsumis adorned it with wicked thorns that would scratch and tear at the skin. Understand?"
The antiquarian again smiled. "And there was great rivalry between the brothers. Glooskap tried to bring peace and harmony to the world but Malsumis often perverted his brother's creations in an effort to cause pain and suffering.
"Into this mix, Tabaldak brought a third son, Mateguas, a younger brother to the two. At the time of his birth, his father gave him the gift of mysticism, and when he was grown, Mateguas became the very first shaman of The People - the one from whom all other shamans are descended.
"But Malsumis was always jealous of his brothers and one day dared Mateguas to demonstrate his mystical powers by flying off the top of a mountain. The taunts of his older brother emboldened the younger son and, foolishly, he leapt off a cliff only to fall to his death. Glooskap, grieving for his younger brother, proclaimed Mateguas to be 'God of the Dead', the ruler of the Underworld. From then on, Glooskap relied on Mateguas' knowledge of things beyond the grave to enrich the lives of his human adherents."
"But how does all this relate to the knife?"
"Patience, child, I'm getting there," he chuckled. "So Mateguas flourished as God of the Dead but he still hungered for a greater connection to the earth he had once walked. Thus, he demanded that The People provide him with an acolyte, a human woman. She was to be dedicated to his service at the time she approached her womanhood, her menses. No human man could ever know her and she would be mandated to live a solitary life as Mateguas' disciple and keeper of the sacred land and its secrets.
"The first such acolyte was commanded to make a knife out of the bone of the sacred moose and on that knife to carve the God's symbols - the crescent moon, the thunderbolt and the teardrop. With this knife, she was to make sacrifice each month, letting her blood soak into the earth thereby ensuring its fertility."
Terri stared down again at the little knife. "Is this that knife? Is that what you're telling me?"
"No, I don't think so. That knife was made centuries ago. It is by now long gone. This knife is a replica, perhaps carved when the first or second knife disintegrated with age. But it still holds great magic. Be very careful with it, child, as it is much sharper than it looks. And above all things, do not cut yourself with it!"
"Why? What would happen if I did?"
"Bloodletting with this sacred knife would bind you to Mateguas. You would become his servant; in effect, his wife."
Terri thought for a moment, picturing in her mind's eye her mother standing on the beach preparing to cut herself.
"And what would happen, say, for example, to a woman who cut herself regularly with this knife over a period of years?"
The old Indian looked at her with great interest. "I'm afraid she would be lost, her soul forever bound to the God of the Dead. And it might not stop there - he might try to take her earthly body, too."
He gazed at the knife once more then placed it back on the handkerchief and carefully re-wrapped it. Taking off his gloves, he handed the package back to Terri.
"I fear you are not being totally honest with me, child, about how you came to be in possession of this knife and how it is connected to you. But that may be as it should be. It is not for me to judge.
"I do not know what you plan on doing with this artifact, but please be careful and do not involve yourself in magic that you will be unable to control. This knife requires a person of great strength to wield it and it will spell doom to any other who tries to do so. Hide it; tuck it away someplace far from you so you will not be tempted. For, to be sure, it will try to lure you, to trick you into thinking it is benign. Don't be fooled, child."
Nodding, Terri held the wrapped knife in her hand, careful to grasp it by the hilt and not the blade when she placed it back in her purse.
"Thank you so much for your time, Charlie. You've been a great help to me. I hope you won't mind if I come back again so we can talk some more after I've had time to think about all you've said."
The old Indian smiled. "You are always welcome in my wigwam. And remember what I told you: be careful!"
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