People of the Lakesby Kathleen O'Neal Gear, W. Michael Gear
Clan fighting over a powerful totemic mask has brought the Mound Builder people of the Great Lakes region to the edge of destruction. It is up to Star Shell, daughter of a Hopewell chief, to rid her people of this curse. Along with her companions: Otter, a trader; Pearl, a runaway; and Green Spider, either prophet or madman, she braves the stormy waters of the… See more details below
Clan fighting over a powerful totemic mask has brought the Mound Builder people of the Great Lakes region to the edge of destruction. It is up to Star Shell, daughter of a Hopewell chief, to rid her people of this curse. Along with her companions: Otter, a trader; Pearl, a runaway; and Green Spider, either prophet or madman, she braves the stormy waters of the lakes to reach the majestic waterfall known as Roaring Water. She is determined to banish the mask forever to a watery grave.
But vengeful clan members are close on her heels, and they have a similar fate planned for her.
Set in what will become Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan, People of the Lakes is another spell-binding epic in New York Times and USA Today bestelling authors W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear's North America's Forgotten past saga.
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People of the Lakes
By W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1994 Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear
All rights reserved.
The naked young man lay facedown on the split-cane matting of the temple floor. His name was Green Spider, but now he looked more like a plucked bird than a spider. His arms stuck out like wings, his legs were close together. He might have been dead, so limp did he lie.
Only on close inspection could the faint rise and fall of his bony back be detected. Smooth, coppery skin sparkled with beads of sweat. Arching from the middle of each shoulder blade across to the collarbone, three deep cuts marred his flesh. The blood—an offering to the Spirit World—had trickled down the strips of muscle and bone that composed his sapling-thin body. A bone skewer, split from a deer's cannon bone and ground sharp on both ends, pinned the tight bun of thick black hair in place at the base of his skull. He looked young, no more than twenty-five winters in age.
Despite the awkward angle of his head, part of his face could be seen. Broad cheekbones accented a high brow, and the nose appeared narrow and hooked, like a raptor's beak. Thin shells—each delicately carved into the shape of a spider and dyed bright green—dangled from the lobes of his ears.
For four long days—deprived of food, sleep, and water—he'd lain thus: sweating, praying, falling into the hole in his soul, seeking, seeking ...
... and the Vision had begun to form, that of flight ... sailing ... twisting on the predawn currents of cloud and wind.
Far below, the earth waited, gray and somber, locked in the grip of winter. Patches of ice-crusted snow molded around the boles of trees and contoured the mottled yellow-brown leaf mat of the oak-hickory forest.
His strangely acute sight located the winding course of the Father Water and followed the familiar sinuous shape to the mouth of the Deer River, then turned eastward, up toward the divide. Nestled in clearings, small thatched huts clustered, awaiting the winter solstice sunrise.
There, along the north bank of the Deer River, blocky earthen mounds had been constructed on the high terraces above the swampy bottoms. Some—centrally placed—rose higher than the trees and had an unbroken view of the distant horizon. Each capped with yellow sand, they glistened in the predawn light. Other earthen mounds had been placed along the solstice and equinox lines that radiated out from the towering central mound. These were rectangular, and capped with white sand in preparation for the Dances and offerings. Yet other mounds, smaller and rounded, bore the bones and ashes of the Dead. These mounds had been placed along the lines of the constellations.
"Do you know this place?" a voice asked from the hazy gray distance.
"The City of the Dead."
The humped shapes of charnel houses clustered in the flats between the mounds. Young trees had been harvested for their construction, the butts placed in postholes and bent to stress the wood into firm bows before saplings were woven into the framework and lashed together. The whole had been covered by tightly laced shocks of grass.
On this special day, the Spirits of the Dead waited, already anxious and hungry for the feast in their honor.
"I am giving you a special gift," the voice told him. "I will let you see through my eyes ... the eyes of Many Colored Crow."
And the sense of flight changed, altered, gaining Power and the memory of times long past and places far away. Green Spider circled, drawing the clouds around him like a thick cocoon. In one scaled foot he clutched the Power of lightning, ready to strike. With his keen Spirit Vision, he studied the scene below.
"Many Colored Crow?"
"I have heard you crying for a Vision."
"But I ... it's so ..."
"Look down! Observe. This is one of the two holiest days of the year."
Despite the sullen cold of winter, people had braved the chill to journey from isolated farmsteads or from the loose aggregates of oblong houses where they gardened, hunted, and gathered food during the year. From as far away as a six-day walk, they had converged on the mound center of the City of the Dead. They came wrapped in blankets, their feet bound to shield them from the crusted snow. Their backs were bowed, burdened by pots full of food, offerings, or the ashes of those who had died during the preceding year. Some had come along the rivers, paddling canoes through the icy waters of still swamps and meandering streams.
People congregated here four times a year, on the solstices and equinoxes. Some came to bury their Dead, others to honor their ancestors, to bring them food or gifts—to remind the Dead that the living remembered and cherished them. To beg for help in the coming year.
Still others came for the feasting and dancing, for on this winter solstice, the shamans would welcome the new year and invite Father Sun to begin his trip northward. Observances would be kept, and sacred artifacts would be cleaned, their Spirits ritually fed and cared for before being stowed in receptacles within the temple buildings.
The ceremonial societies would Dance and perform the rituals that would ensure a good year for all. The young who sought initiation would be tested. Those who passed the ordeals would be accepted into the secrets of their societies. The structures and enclosures within which these events occurred would be inspected and plans laid for their upkeep. The sacred grounds of the City of the Dead would be policed, and invading saplings chopped out.
During the four days of the ceremonies, clans conducted most of their business. The female clan leaders would decide which crops would be planted in spring. Fields needed to be rotated and farmsteads moved. Hours would be spent in serious council regarding soils, seed crops, and where the forests should be cleared. Internal matters would be dealt with: disputes settled, marriages negotiated, and in some cases, divorces granted.
"Will this Vision give me the Power to call the storms? To control nature and people?"
"No, Green Spider. You seek order, and you will find only Truth. Look at them. See the people? You will never see them the same way again."
As Green Spider gazed down from above, most of those people slept. He turned his attention to the long, thatched temple that stood just south of the highest mound in the central group. There, five men remained awake despite the hour.
Four old men, the Clan Elders, sat inside the temple. They hunched like shriveled toads as they watched a naked young man prone on the floor.
"Me ... that's me!" Green Spider's senseless body still lay facedown on the mat-covered floor. How pitiful his flesh looked, inert, little more than warm clay.
"Yes, you ... as you were. Who are those old men who watch you so? Is their faith in you justified?"
"They are the Clan Elders, the old men who see to the rituals. They are the Spiritual guardians of my people."
Green Spider studied the familiar Clan Elders. Summer suns and winter winds had deepened and enriched those walnut complexions with a patina of age. Copper ear spools hung from stretched earlobes, and the wrinkles camouflaged faded tattoos. Mouths puckered around toothless jaws, but their eyes remained bright, sharply focused on Green Spider's inert body.
They wore long winter coats, fringed shawls, and fur-lined moccasins that rose to mid-calf. The cloth, woven from processed nettle and milkweed, had been spun into the finest of fibers before master weavers had strung thread over loom. Great artistry had gone into the weaving, and intricate patterns decorated the carefully dyed cloth. The color represented each Elder's clan affiliation.
The Red Bloods were the clan of the east; to them, the color red was sacred. They dyed it into the stunning fabrics they specialized in producing, and painted it on their bodies for the ceremonials. Blood represented the Power of life that was shared by all living things. With it, the clans renewed the fields in spring and painted themselves after a successful hunt to thank the Spirits of the animals upon which they depended. Old Man Blood carried a conch shell, the symbol of his office.
The Sun Clan held the bench along the south wall and wore the color yellow—symbolizing Father Sun and the life he brought to all living things. This clan maintained the sacred fires in the temples and lit them in the surrounding clan houses for the seasonal rituals. The Sun Clan carried burning brands when new fields were to be cleared or old ones retired, for fire cleansed. Old Man Sun carried fire sticks.
The western bench represented the Sky Clan, who donned blue for their sacred rituals. Blue was the color of water as well as the sky, for the two were interrelated. The sky provided rain for the fields and replenished the rivers for the fish, turtles, and waterfowl. Blue was the color of renewal. Old Man Sky carried a small jar of water.
The northern bench belonged to the Winter Clan, and their color was black, that of war, the hunt, and the winter storms. For what good were blood, sun, sky, and water without courage, strength, and death? Life could not exist without death, nor could the day without the night. All things—be they yearly cycles or lifetimes—must eventually end. And from endings came new beginnings. Old Man North had rattles—crafted from sections of human skulls—tied to his knees so that each step he took rattled the passing of time and the inevitability of death,
Had it not always been so?
"I will be strong enough." Green Spider's soul chilled. Strong enough for what?
"Before I grant you what you seek, I must test you," the voice of Many Colored Crow told him. "Can you fulfill the needs of Power?"
All of Green Spider's life, he'd prepared himself to be a Dreamer. He could always sense Power just beyond the fringes of his soul. He craved it, wished to savor it. With Power, he could heal injury, bring rain, cure illness, and encourage crops to grow.
"I will do anything you ask that I may fulfill the needs of Power."
"You seek Truth, Green Spider. If you are strong enough, I will let you experience the essence of Power. Look ... look at this temple you love so. See it, learn it, remember it."
Flames leaped and flickered in the rock-filled fire pit in the center of the room. The orange gleam washed the magnificently painted walls with their colorful images of First Man, Wolf, Falcon, Spider, Raccoon, Turtle, and Bear. Handprints created a line across the top of the wall, while spirals shone redly between the effigy drawings.
Large pottery jars with conical bases and cord-marked sides rested beneath the low benches upon which the old men sat. The jars lay canted on their sides, each capped with fabric and tied shut with hemp cordage. Within them lay ashes: the cremated remains of the ancestors. Their Spirits had been called by prayers, the rhythmic clacking of rattles, and the Singing of the Clan Elders. Now they hovered about, watching the young man, hearing his desperate prayers.
Faces of Spirit Animals and people had been carved into four heavy cedar posts that supported the thatched roof overhead. Firelight danced across the faces, and they seemed to change expression—ranging from intense sorrow to a mocking leer as they, too, studied the naked supplicant.
"The temple is the heart of the people," Green Spider said. "The sacred objects are kept here. It is the most holy place of all the clans."
"And very sacred to you, Green Spider. It has become the center of your life. The clans have nurtured you, cared for you, given you everything you needed to become a Dreamer. Will you become more, Green Spider? Look at those old men. Feel your love for them. Yes, that's right. Savor the warmth rising in your soul."
Green Spider looked down, loving each of the old men, remembering the lessons they had taught him. They remained faithful, trusting him. Green Spider loved them with all of his heart as they watched over his senseless body, stoic in their vigil.
"Love is Powerful, Green Spider. Are you strong enough to deny it?"
"Deny it? Why?"
"Love can distract us from Truth—from the reality of Power. Love is a Trickster."
The fire had burned down, and Old Man Sun slowly stood, reached for another piece of firewood, and softly chanted as he added it to the fire pit. Then he traced the pattern of a web in the air. According to the beliefs of the people, the Sun Clan had been founded by Spider, who had brought fire to human beings just after the Creation.
The piece of cedarwood crackled and sparked, catching fire. The ghosts shifted as they floated around Green Spider's senseless body and whispered among themselves.
A Song rose from beyond the walls of the temple. The solstice was dawning. The Red Blood Clan stepped out of their houses and into the chilly winter morning, Singing their welcome to the light. People lifted their hands to the east, staring up with expectant faces as they chanted the ritual greeting.
The old men in the temple stirred uneasily. The ceremonies were beginning, and each of the Elders had responsibilities. How long would this vigil last? Four long days had passed since young Green Spider had prostrated himself in the Dream Quest.
Old Man Blood sighed, the action little more than a wheezing exhalation. He fingered the large conch shell and thought for a moment. "We must stay. We promised."
Acceptance brought the barest bobs of heads. They would stay.
"These are honorable friends," Many Colored Crow declared. "All the better to test your determination. Are you preparing yourself, Green Spider?"
"Preparing myself?" What did Many Colored Crow mean? Hadn't he already done that?
"Oh, Green Spider, you've barely taken the first step. I have allowed you to fly, to slip into my Spirit wings. If you are strong enough, I will allow you to act in my place. You have made a request of Power. I will grant what you seek ... if you will grant me what I wish. The way is long, hard, dangerous, and painful. What will you sacrifice to Power?"
"Anything. Just as my people are now sacrificing."
If the Clan Elders would forgo their responsibilities on so important a day, didn't that serve as a lesson for Green Spider? The clans knew the rituals; others—the men who would eventually succeed these ancient Elders—would make the offerings and lead the ceremonies.
"I will do as you wish, Many Colored Crow. Tell me what you desire. You can have anything that is mine to give."
"Not yet," the voice of Many Colored Crow called to him from the distance. "This is just the beginning. You have a long way to journey yet."
Green Spider's soul turned its attention to the stirring of the people who shivered and tugged brightly dyed blankets around themselves. Their breath frosted in the icy air.
From the ceremonial huts around the clan mounds, Dancers emerged into the crystal cold of the purple morning. Dressed in their finery, they looked, one by one, toward the tall mound where the Elders should have been. Finding no familiar forms outlined against the heavens, they turned their attention toward the square building at the mound's base. The temple hunched in the gray light; its low palisade and tight cane walls obscured any hint of the Elders' doings. Whispered questions passed back and forth as people clutched their blankets and climbed the mounds to initiate the ceremonies that would bring the birth of a new year.
Faces rose to the galena-gray sky, a wary squint in their eyes as they blew into cupped hands and stamped cold feet. The clouds twisted in the labor pains of a storm being born. Would snowflakes fall—or would freezing rain sheathe the bare, black tree limbs that transformed the rolling horizon into a fuzzy gray blanket?
"Your people seem worried," Many Colored Crow noted.
"They are wondering what has become of the Clan Elders. They know of my search for a Vision."
Excerpted from People of the Lakes by W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear. Copyright © 1994 Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael 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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