It Dreams in Meby Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Sora, the High Chieftess of the Black Falcon Nation, has been banished by her own people until she can find healing for her broken spirit. Her seductive, murderous rampages have led to war with nearby clans and caused dissension in her own, as well. If another body was to turn up, Sora will certainly be blamed--even her own clan will demand her death. Now facing… See more details below
Sora, the High Chieftess of the Black Falcon Nation, has been banished by her own people until she can find healing for her broken spirit. Her seductive, murderous rampages have led to war with nearby clans and caused dissension in her own, as well. If another body was to turn up, Sora will certainly be blamed--even her own clan will demand her death. Now facing her thirty-third winter, she and her husband Flint are wandering the land searching frantically for the means to cure her shattered soul.
In the wake of the Eagle Flute Village massacre, Red Raven witnessed a woman murder Chief Short Tail of the Loon people in an exotic ritual. As word spreads, more people want Sora found and killed, but there is still hope to heal her . . . she must find her reflection-soul. But Short Tail's shadow-soul managed to find a home in his last breath, and, hell-bent on revenge, he'll do anything to put an end to Sora's life.
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It Dreams in Me
By Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2007 Kathleen O'Neal Gear
All rights reserved.
HE IS AFRAID.
I know because he trembles when I press my naked body against his and whisper, "You were a fool to come back here."
His wide eyes are sheathed with the amber glitter of sparks that suffuse the smoke. The only article of clothing he wears is a bright red sash wrapped around his throat. His beautiful cape, made from woven buffalo wool, rests two paces away with his other belongings: his bow and quiver, his gorgeous coral-inlaid war club, deer-bone stiletto, and copper jewelry.
"What do you want!" He strains against the ropes that bind his hands and ankles. "Why are you doing this?"
"You can't be that stupid. You must know who sent me."
The dark forest has gone deathly quiet. The only sounds are the falling rain and the occasional crackling of timbers that rise from the smoldering heaps of lodges in the distance.
He tries to speak. His mouth opens, but no words come out, just a strange hiss, like the last breath leaving a dying body.
Finally he says, "I did what she asked! Go back and tell her I obeyed her. I obeyed even though I knew it was the wrong thing to do!"
His jaw trembles before he clenches his teeth.
I stare down into his eyes, and pure terror stares back. He is a powerful man, muscular, brown, with deep lines across his forehead; he is one of the great leaders of the Water Hickory Clan ... was one of the great leaders.
Ten paces away a little boy lying in a pool of rain-diluted blood kicks and goes limp, still clutching his make-believe bow in his hand.
"I don't believe you," he hisses. "She wouldn't do this. I am her loyal servant! She knows that!"
Against his lips, I murmur, "Don't be afraid."
He forces a hard swallow down his throat. "What are you going to do to me?"
I reach down to stroke his limp manhood, and his eyes change; disbelief vies with hope. I have a reputation for being a passionate woman, and it has occurred to him that perhaps this is an erotic game, that I ambushed him, clubbed him senseless, and tied him up to pleasure him at my will. Within moments he is rigid in my hand.
"Don't be afraid," I repeat as I slip his manhood inside me.
He can't stop himself; he tries to force himself deeper, but his bound hands and legs make his movements awkward.
I spread my legs to help him. As I lazily rock against him, his eyes gleam. Fear has excited him in a way he's never experienced before. He likes this game and drives himself into my soft sheath.
When he's panting and writhing, I lean forward, dragging my breasts across his bloody chest, and say, "I'm going to set your souls free."
In the midst of his euphoria, uncertainty clouds his gaze. But it is brief. He's close. He cares about nothing but finishing.
I grasp the sash around his throat and sit up. Every time he thrusts, I twist the sash, tightening it. I smile at him with my lips open, and he thinks he understands. As he nears completion, suffocation heightens the sensations in a desperate fashion. He struggles for air and senselessly lunges against me. The smile on his face is sublime.
By the time his seed jets in a warm ancient rhythm, he's wheezing, gasping for air.
When he finally relaxes and dreamily stares up at me, he sees himself reflected in my eyes.
And he knows.
"No!" He slams his head into my chest, knocking me backward to the wet ground. I lose my grip on the sash, and hideous grunts escape his throat as he tries to crawl away, flopping and rolling, moving like the worm he is.
I stride forward, grab the trailing ends of the sash, and drag him toward the marsh, where the cattails have begun to gleam faintly blue in the dawn light penetrating the clouds. Deadfall cracks beneath his flailing feet.
While he twists and grunts, I study the dark dots of birds perched on the marsh reeds. The coppery scent of blood mixes with the fragrance of wet earth as though they were born together and have never been separate.
At the edge of the water, I stop. Chief Short Tail's face has turned purple, and his mouth opens and closes like a fish's.
I loosen the sash.
When he begins to gasp, I kneel down and stare into his disbelieving eyes. "This is going to take time, Chief. Get as much air as you can. Scream if you need to. Your warriors are out tracking down the survivors of the massacre. There's no one to hear you.
"No one but me."CHAPTER 2
A RATTLE SOUNDED TO RED RAVEN'S LEFT. HE SCANNED the towering oaks. Birds and squirrels perched in the branches, frozen in place, silent, as though they, too, had heard the sound of human feet. Far off, but coming fast.
The glow of dawn penetrated the misty rain, but most of the world remained in deep shadow.
All night long terrified people had run past his hiding place, some dragging crying children by the hands, others, the lucky ones, carrying injured loved ones.
A thump, closer ...
He held his breath.
Rain dripped through the branches and poured down upon the old leaf mat, creating a cadence that resembled a soft drumroll.
Rain. Just rain. Not footsteps.
He eased forward again, pushing aside the dark curtains of hanging moss while he tried to see through the storm. The scent of smoke grew stronger.
"That old woman is going to get me killed," he whispered.
It wasn't Red Raven's fault that he'd arrived while the attack was in progress. How could he have known that Chief Short Tail would strike at night? Most men would have attacked at dawn, so they could see who they were killing. Because of Short Tail's brazen strategy, Red Raven had probably missed his chance to carry out his clan matron's orders.
A twig snapped.
He went rigid, then cursed himself when a squirrel darted by. For over a hand of time, he'd been jumping at every sound.
If he had any true courage he'd just go home, tell old Sea Grass that he hadn't seen either of the people she'd sent him to find, and face her wrath. But these things had to be handled with great care. While circumstances might prevent a man from carrying out his clan matron's orders, if it was discovered that he'd deliberately disobeyed her, his life would be worth less than a squirrel skin. Still, it was too dangerous to remain here. Survivors roamed the woods, waiting until they knew it was safe to come back and bury their dead relatives. Any member of the Water Hickory Clan that they found alive would wish he were dead.
Red Raven took another step. ...
Ten paces away, the dark form of a woman moved through the forest. Tall, with full breasts and swinging hips, she walked with a purpose. Her waist-length black hair stuck wetly to her back.
Red Raven drew his war club, parted the moss, and veered around underbrush, paralleling the woman's course. She went to a rotted log at the edge of the marsh and sank down as though weary. In front of her, dropped belongings lay strewn, kicked about in panic by people fleeing the attack.
"He's dead. I want you to know that," she said.
Red Raven frowned. Was she speaking with the lost ghosts who wandered the burned village? Or the dead Water Hickory Clan warriors who lay before her?
I should kill her. ...
A man emerged from the trees and Red Raven dodged behind the curtain of hanging moss.
The man's wide surprised eyes gleamed in the storm light. He called, "What are you doing here? I told you I'd take care of it!"
"You took too long; besides, it was my duty, not yours." She reached down and pulled a cape from the ground. As she swung it around her shoulders, she said, "He was such a fool. No true warrior would have been careless enough to allow me to catch him." She tied the cape laces beneath her chin. "Now let's go before his warriors come. They're already looking for him."
The man's gaze focused on what appeared to be a black pile leaning against an oak trunk. "Dear gods, what have you done?"
"He defied our matron. He deserved more than just death," she said, and walked away, heading up the deer trail into the trees.
The man ran to the pile and flipped over what was clearly a dead body.
Curious, Red Raven edged closer. He thought he recognized the man's voice, but couldn't be sure; he wasn't going to take the chance of calling out and having an enemy's arrow lodge in his chest.
The man examined the corpse, and his mouth set in a grim expression. He leaned down and said, "Fool! Now who will ... our clan matron ... I received ... message."
The man turned and sprinted away, following the same trail the woman had taken.
Hallowed Ancestors, did he say "our" clan matron?
Red Raven tiptoed through the brush until he could see the corpse. The victim was naked, and he'd been strangled. His eyes and tongue still bulged from his skull. More than that, he had something, a sash maybe, tied around his throat.
Red Raven squinted. Copper glittered near the body. He moved closer. The objects, mostly jewelry, had been arranged around the corpse in a big circle. A mound of weapons and wadded clothing marked the center of the circle, and it occurred to Red Raven that they must have spilled from the dead man's back when the stranger flipped him over.
A sudden chill went up Red Raven's spine. This man's death was not the result of one warrior pitted against another in the heat of battle, but murder. The woman had been sending a message to anyone who found the body.
He frowned at the circle. If it had been made from colored sand instead of copper jewelry it would have resembled a Healing Circle.
That struck him as too bizarre to believe. Who would murder a man, then create a Healing Circle around him to protect his souls from evil Spirits?
Red Raven glanced around to make certain he was alone before he crept close to the body.
Had there been anyone near, his sudden intake of breath would have been his doom. He couldn't take his eyes from the coral-inlaid war club.
It was Short Tail's club and had been the chief's most cherished weapon. He'd made it himself and boasted that the gods had blessed it. Everyone knew that club.
Red Raven stood in shock until it occurred to him that that club might be his salvation. He couldn't have delivered Matron Sea Grass' message when Short Tail was already dead. Here was the proof! Chief Short Tail would never let that club out of his hands short of death.
She will still punish me for failing to deliver her second message, but I'll just tell her that I saw no one else.
When he stepped into the ritual circle to pick up the club, a soft moan escaped the corpse's mouth. Red Raven almost screamed. He grabbed the club, leaped out of the circle, and ran a few paces before he looked back.
"He can't be alive!"
Shaking like a twelve-winters-old boy on his first war walk, Red Raven had to clench his teeth to steady his nerves.
The sash around Short Tail's throat must have loosened when he'd been flipped over, and this was air finally escaping his lungs.
That's even worse!
Terror warmed his veins.
The Black Falcon Nation believed that each person had three souls: a soul that lived in the eyes, a soul that lived in the shadow, and a soul that lived in the reflection. One of the Black Falcon People's greatest fears was that they might catch a dying person's last breath. It was at that moment that the reflection-soul and shadow-soul slipped out together. If a living person was too close to the breath, the shadow-soul, desperately looking for a new home, could shoot like an arrow into the living person, where it might nest for many winters.
The shadow-soul was terrifying because at death all the evil leached from the other souls and settled in the shadow-soul. That left the reflection-soul pure, fit to live among the Blessed Ancestors, while the cleansed eye-soul stayed with the body forever.
"I was too far away for his shadow-soul to reach me, wasn't I?"
He clutched the club and ran for Blackbird Town as fast as his legs would carry him.CHAPTER 3
THUNDERBIRDS RUMBLED ACROSS THE SKY, AND LIGHTNING flashed through her dreams like a war lance.
Chieftess Sora woke with a start. Tears ran down her cheeks as the last of the nightmare faded.
She looked up and blinked at the palm-thatch ramada that sheltered her. The four poles and roof had been hastily thrown up, for there were gaps in the fronds that allowed the rain to penetrate. Drops beaded the foot of the buffalohide that covered her.
She felt weak and bewildered. Where was she? She didn't recognize this place.
Cool wind eddied through the cypress trees, scenting the world with a pleasant tangy fragrance. She inhaled, hoping it would ease her nausea ... while she tried to remember the past few days. Images flitted, bare scraps of horror filled with the scent of blood.
Her stomach heaved. She rolled to her side and vomited onto the ground.
Brush thrashed in the forest as someone trotted up the trail. Priest Strongheart emerged into the small clearing and hurried toward her with his long deerhide cape flapping around his legs. He had seen twenty-three winters, nine winters less than she had. Tall and skinny, he had short black hair. He was a homely man, his round face too wide, hooked nose too long, but his luminous eyes seemed to contain all the light in the world.
"Please, lie down," he called as he gracefully walked toward her. "You haven't eaten in two days. If you rise too fast, you'll be even sicker."
He picked up a flat piece of bark, scooped up the vomit, and tossed it out into the rainy forest; then he knelt at her side. His large calloused hand felt cool when he placed it against her forehead. "You're still hot, but much cooler than last night. Let me get you a cup of tea."
"Have I been ill?"
"Your reflection-soul has been out wandering for at least three days."
It was the reflection-soul that traveled to the afterlife at death. But sometimes, while a person was still alive, it wandered away from the body and became lost in the forest. That's what caused insanity. It took a very great Healer to find the lost soul and make it stay in the body.
She watched him walk over to the fire pit sheltered by the moss-covered branches of an old oak. Hanging from a tripod at the edge of the flames, a tea pot swayed in the wind. The misty background highlighted the shape of his tall body. He had broad shoulders that narrowed to a slim waist. Yellow starbursts decorated his buckskin cape.
Strongheart dipped two wooden cups into the pot and brought them back. "Drink this. You'll feel better."
She propped herself on one elbow and took the cup. The pungent fragrance of magnolia bark bathed her face as she sipped it. "Where are we?"
"Near Blue Heron Swamp," he answered, and blew on his tea to cool it.
"What — what happened?"
He stared at her as though he could see straight to the darkest depths of her souls. "I'm not sure. I went out into the forest to hunt, and when I returned Flint told me you were gone, that you'd slipped away from him. I said I would search the trails heading north; he searched the southern trails."
"Who found me?"
"Flint did. He said you had gone back to Eagle Flute Village. We brought you here as quickly as we could, and then Flint left. He told me he'd return soon, but it's been two days."
"Where did he go?"
"I don't know."
She drank the tea one sip at a time. His concerned gaze never left her. He seemed to be examining every bruise on her face and scratch on her arms.
Worriedly, he asked, "Are you better?"
A strange feeling gripped her, as though someone had reached inside her chest and squeezed her heart. "I had a nightmare."
She took another drink of tea to steady her nerves. "The same one. I've told you about it before."
He knelt beside her. "The dream about Flint and the Red Hill?"
"Yes, I — I don't have it as often as I used to. Only on rainy nights. And even then, over the past quarter moon, it's lost some of its reality. Now, when the dream comes, I usually know that the pain in my belly is not poison. I can tell myself that it's the wind I hear, not Flint singing me lullabies. And ..." A deep soul-wrenching ache swelled her chest. "My souls don't rip apart when that tiny blue boy is born."
Excerpted from It Dreams in Me by Kathleen O'Neal Gear. Copyright © 2007 Kathleen O'Neal Gear. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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