RURAL FALCON RIDGE
FASTING VIGIL DAY 3
April 22, Sunday
Charlie's gaze lingered on the forested peaks as he awaited day's first light. The medicine bundle and sacred red pipe rested on the badger hide.
Eaglefeathers explained the purpose of fasting years before. Sacrificing what sustained life demonstrated a person's intent in a tangible way. The discomforts were a reminder of his dependence on the Earth, which invited humility. Then he could approach Maheo with the proper level of respect. Denying physical demands strengthened his spirit and made it more receptive.
He thought back to his failed attempt to complete a ceremonial fast after he graduated high school. By the afternoon of the second day he'd refused to continue. His grandfather assured him he could do it and offered what he referred to as Big Medicine, a medicinal herb used in all Cheyenne ceremonies. He promised it would carry him through.
At the time the only thing he believed could carry him through was a hamburger, fries, and an extra-large Coke. He never forgot his grandfather's pained look when he insisted he was done and wanted to go home.
This time his motivation was sufficient to persevere. Hunger fled, though his mouth was uncomfortably dry. His energy level dropped more each day and he felt increasingly light-headed. Thus, his thoughts turned to the Big Medicine he'd been offered when his will faltered two decades before.
He removed the medicine bag from the larger bundle and took out the pouches it contained. He remembered its unique shape, which resembled a man's hand. He untied the first pouch, finding big root medicine. The next three held bear root, bitter root, and mint tea, respectively.
He spotted something slightly larger secured within a square of cloth with its corners tied together. He picked it up and felt through the fabric. Its hand-like shape revealed what he was looking for. He untied the corners, took it out. Used his pocket knife to cut off one of the root's fingers and strip its outer skin. He placed it beneath his tongue and closed his eyes.
Before long his eyes flew open as saliva returned to his mouth. All this time he'd believed the old man was trying to stall, trick or deceive him.
The simple token of relief reassured him he could do this. He vowed that some day he would return to Eagles Peak, to the place his grandfather designated back then and complete the entire ritual.
Physical discomforts momentarily relieved, he lit the pipe and prepared to send his request skyward. He closed his eyes, contemplating why he was there. Since his grandfather's death, Bryan was the one person he could count on. He trusted him implicitly. Now he, too, was gone, his life stolen. Again, he was alone.
Admonitions arose from within his soul. Indulging in self-pity was cowardly. This wasn't about him. It was about Bryan. If his death was wrong, he needed to know.
As his thoughts turned to his brother, it dawned on him that five days had passed since his death. Four marked the time when the deceased departed for the land of spirits. He started to sing the Cheyenne Journey Song to help him on his way.
The words stuck in his throat.
Was it too late?
Or too early?
Gooseflesh crept along his arms and neck. The same feeling that alerted him to his death. Was he lingering until his remains were scattered?
Sara's father texted the night before that they would do that after she was released from the hospital. Until then, maybe Bryan was watching over her.
Or could it relate to how he died? Suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving him lost and trying to find his body?
Being caught between worlds was something he understood. The conflict between his parents's cultures was bad enough, to say nothing of the white man's encroaching on both. He'd spent most his life not knowing who or what he was or where he belonged.
Bryan helped him navigate the modern world, but now that anchor was gone.
His Cheyenne roots were all he had left. No wonder he was drawn to them like never before. Yet, his connection with Bryan was what brought him there.
Where was his brother?
Whether he remained on the Earth plane or had already gone home, the fact remained that his brother was the only one who could tell him what happened and why.
Dark suspicions surrounded his loss.
Finding those answers was why he was there.
He cradled the pipe in the crook of his arm and sang the "Grandfather Song" in tribute, as he had the day before. Then, once again he prayed with a fervency born from the assurance he was being heard.
It concerned him when tears fell, not wanting to appear weak. Words of comfort settled as dew on his troubled mind:
When water flows from your eyes, it cleanses your spirit. No prayer is more sincere or pleasing to Maheo than one that comes from your heart.
He waited. At length, another impression came.
Your prayer was heard and accepted. Return tomorrow and your request will be granted.
The sun's rays splintered behind the pines in an explosion of color, then disappeared, ending the third day.
It was not so much hope as certainty that the next day answers would come.
RURAL FALCON RIDGE
FASTING VIGIL, DAY 4
April 23, Monday
Charlie settled into his usual position overlooking Dead Horse Canyon. He lit the pipe, the ceremony now comfortable and familiar as he repeated his request.
The sun crawled across the sky as his petitions continued. When the westering sun touched the distant peaks, still no answer had come. Disappointment burned behind his eyes. Until now, his prayers, other than the songs, were in English, the language with which he was most familiar.
This time he found himself speaking directly from his heart, aloud in fluent Tseteshestahese.
"I have done as I was instructed," he said. "I have prayed and fasted four days. I beg forgiveness for any mistakes in my asking. Once again I ask in all humility. I ask humbly for knowledge of my brother's fate. Please tell me, Maheo—was it his time, his death intended? Or was the accident a deliberate act that stole his life?"
He focused on listening, all senses poised for an answer. The previous impressions had been whispered, words soft but discernible. Whether they came from within his psyche or without wasn't clear.
A truck roared by, breaking his concentration. Its wake peppered him with coarse dirt and a cloud of dust that triggered a coughing fit. Nearly blinded, he fumbled in the bundle for the Big Medicine. He cut off a piece, stripped its skin by feel, and placed it in his mouth, willing it to bring relief. It helped a little, but not as effectively as before.
Settled again, he uttered another plea from the depths of his soul. He bolted to attention, mouth agape, when the answer slammed into his mind. The voice was unfamiliar, certainly not his own. It surged through him, body trembling in response to its authority and power.
The accident that stole your white brother was the work of evil men. Their hearts are cold and cruel. They think only of their own fortunes, dominion, and control. Their minds are as those who tried to destroy our people. They would have succeeded, were it not for the journey of our Father, Morning Star. Listen to your heart, Okohomoxhaahketa. With your spirit guides it will lead you on the path to retribution.
At last the dark, oppressive weight he'd carried since that fateful day made sense. As he suspected all along, Bryan's death was not an accident.
Dishonorable men murdered his brother.
Okohomoxhaahketa, Littlewolf in English, was the name his grandfather gave him when he was six years old. His ancestor, Chief Littlewolf, was one of the most revered chiefs in Cheyenne history.
His Diné mother refused to accept, much less use it, however. Her culture's naming conventions were matrilineal, which dictated that his surname be the same as hers. As it turned out, the naming ceremony had been what lit the fuse on his parent's cultural differences.
Differences that tore him apart as well, driving him from both indigenous traditions into a barren no-man's land.
He meditated on the response until Venus appeared above the jagged peaks, words indelibly etched in his heart. At last he stood, knees weak. The shattered vehicle below was barely visible in the quarter moon's silver light. Reflections danced off the stream's sullied waters like the new barrage of questions trampling his mind.
Questions like Why?
An airy, breathless sense of purpose surrounded him as he walked the canyon's edge toward his truck. As he prepared to cross the pavement a vehicle approached, its headlights blinding. Unsteady on his feet, his hand grasped the aspen until the truck sped past.
The light searing his eyes delivered another impression, that of a blazing dawn.
Bryan's death was not an ending.
It was a beginning.
Its scope, vast and incomprehensible, thundered through him as bison crossing the plains two centuries before.
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