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
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.
Read an Excerpt
People of the Lakes
By Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Tor BooksCopyright © 1995 Kathleen O'Neal Gear
All right reserved.
People of the Lakes
OneThe 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 theFather 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 aggregatesof 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 whennew 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 sidesrested 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 solsticewas 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 intheir 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."Green Spider could sense the growing anxiety. Would the rituals be carried out correctly without the guidance of the old men? Would the coming of spring be affected? What did this mean to the lives of ordinary men and women?Green Spider's Spirit flipped and soared in a spiral over the earthen mounds. Didn't they understand? It would mean that he would be granted his wish; he would be able to intercede, to help them, to control the weather and the storms, illness, and injury. He tried to see it all, the entirety of the clan holdings that would be his responsibility.Beyond the limits of the City of the Dead, occasional clusters of houses and irregular plots of fields lay under a mantle of frost. They made a patchwork before giving way to the winter-bare forest. Three more moons would have to pass while Father Sun worked ever higher to drive the blackness of winter into its northern lair once again. Then the rich soil could be tilled, the squash planted, and the maygrass and marsh elder gathered during the spring harvest. Knotweed, and goosefoot seeds, would be carefully inspected before being stabbed into the rich, red-brown earth with sharpened digging sticks.Along the southern border of the City of the Dead, the Deer River meandered through swampy bottoms where drying racksand duck blinds stood. Fish weirs poked up like pickets, and shell beds lay beneath the ice-clotted brown waters. Crusted patches of snow mantled the leaf mat, reeds, and cane that lined the banks of the murky river. Canoes, side by side like pointed pegs, had been pulled up onto the landings where the bluffs sloped gently to the waters. Drying ricks of spindly poles awaited the next harvest, when they would be taken from the meandering channel and back swamps.Across those sullen waters lay the Sun Clan holdings, random dots of houses and conical storage huts intermixed with the helter-skelter patchwork of fields. There, too, people stepped through door hangings to greet this special morning. Many offered their prayers to the sun and glanced northward toward the high, central mound that dominated the opposite shore.Green Spider could detect the unease that passed among them, as if each individual felt the weight of Power in the winter air."Don't worry," he promised them. "I'm Dreaming for you. I will care for ... make your lives easier.""If you're strong enough," Many Colored Crow reminded. "And were I you, Dreamer, I' d not make a promise I didn't know I could keep. My brother tells me I' m a fool to bet on a man--but he is making his own bets. He has no more sense than I.""I will keep my promises.""And help Power keep its own?""Yes! Yes!" The joy of flight surged through him, rapture pulsing with each beat of his shining sable wings.Within the snug shelters, people scooped the daily meal of hickory nuts, dried berries, or milled goosefoot seeds from the large ceramic jars stowed under the sleeping benches. Some lifted squash from storage cysts cut into the earthen floors as others heated piles of cooking clays for the earth ovens.Here and there, a canoe passed across the runways in the swamp. Word of the missing Clan Elders was traveling. Exclamations of wonder passed as widened black eyes turned in the direction of the temple."It's all right," Green Spider cried, his voice lost in the clouds. "I'm being granted my Vision! Things will be better! I can make them better!""Yes, perhaps you can. It would only be fair to tell you,Green Spider, that if you are truly strong enough to do as I ask, you will never be the same again.""I want Power!" he cried again. "Anything! Just let me see the Truth!""To know the Truth, you, and all that you are, must die. Can you destroy yourself to find what you seek?"Despite the growing buzz of worried chatter, those who had traveled to the City of the Dead from outlying clan territories huddled about their fires, either telling--or listening to--the winter stories. Stories of Many Colored Crow calling the ghosts, tricking them onto the mountain of fire.The Dead knew so much more than ordinary folk. People glanced reverently at the beautiful pots that contained the ashes of family members who had died during the preceding year. On this day, they would mix the remains with those of the ancestors in the clan commons of the City of the Dead. None of their loved ones would ever be lonely again.Ashes came from as far away as the gulf coast. Kin who had died in those distant lands had been cremated, the remains carried up the waterways and over the divides in the packs of Traders. Now the remains were home, in the land of their birth, to rejoin their families.The charnel houses waited somberly, their roofs hoar-frosted. Within these structures, many corpses had been cared for during the preceding moons. Now the souls would be freed to mingle with the other ghosts.Excitement swept the people, all of them dressed in their finest fabrics. Gleaming shell, polished copper, or finely ground stone gorgets hung from their necks. Strands of bone, stone, and shell beads rattled gaily on proud chests. Feathers of shocking brightness had been woven into silky black hair, and faces had been painted with painstaking care.As the Dancers on the mounds gyrated and Sang their prayers to the Spirits, relatives removed corpses from the pole benches in the charnel houses and carried them to the crematories--shallow clay pits filled with ricks of dried hardwood. There the desiccated bodies would be laid out and fire brought from the Sun Clan's temple on the south of the mound complex. The flames would crackle up, returning the flesh into the nothingness from whence it came.Reverent relatives would pray and Sing to the souls of their departed. The ghosts knew they were remembered and had no reason to linger in the land of the living. Then food, drink, and gifts would be offered on the mound tops, or attached to the poles that canted out at an angle around the bases.Offerings would also be made to Crow, the carrion bird, the tricky hunter. Because Crow knew the Dead and did them favors, he could bring messages to people here in the world of the living. Therefore, Crow was revered, and his image was often carved on pipes, pounded into pieces of copper, and cut from sheets of mica."Yes," Green Spider said, feeling haunted and uneasy. "I will die if it will grant me Power. I will do anything I must to learn the secrets of Power.""Are you sure? After all, you're only Dreaming, your soul drifting free from your body. You've lain there on the matting for four days and nights without food, without water. You've forced yourself to stay awake, to empty your soul of thoughts. Perhaps you're raving.""Are you telling me that this is all illusion? I can see everywhere ... the way Crow can see when he circles in the sky!""Everything is illusion. But you will have to die before you understand." A pause. "You will miss the feast."Only after the Dead had been cared for could the mourners relax and turn their thoughts to the living and their concerns. Warm houses and anxious families awaited their return--and, of course, the news of the ceremonials. After all, winter was the time of talk around cheery fires, and of socializing. Lapidary work on celts, adzes, atlatl weights, and pipes continued as the people waited for the Planting Moon. Weavers created their works of art. Hunters stalked the uplands, seeking to snare the white-tailed deer, or to ambush turkey or grouse, entangling them with bolas--five thongs tied together at the top and weighted with stones on the ends.People journeyed to the City of the Dead for other reasons, too. Many came to ask their ancestors for advice, or to plead for help from the Spirit World. Others asked for courage and victory in war, or for the ability to heal the sick and the injured. The love-smitten young often came seeking success in marriage or seduction. Sometimes a person might ask the aid of the ancestorswhen something was lost, hoping that while they slept, the location would be revealed to them in a dream. Visions of the future might be granted--or warnings of coming trouble."Is that all you ask? I will Trade a feast for Power.""Indeed? A feast for Power? You' d make a poor Trader, Green Spider. And if you will do as I ask, you' ll make a Trade such as you never bargained for. A clever Trader would beware."Green Spider couldn't help but glance down at the Traders' camp that sat just up from the canoe landing. Humans were the same everywhere. Traders and artisans displayed their wares whenever opportunity presented. At solstice, rare goods were exchanged: fine textiles woven from carefully prepared fibers, brightly colored dyes, sharks' teeth and conch shell from the southern seas, effigy pipes from the great earthworks of the Serpent chiefs, copper and silver from the country north of the Fresh Water Seas, delicacies such as maple syrup from the far northeast--even obsidian from a mythical land far to the west where the grizzly bears lived."Any Trader worth his calling would do what I'm willing to do."Many Colored Crow answered with silence.Solstice ceremonials accomplished many things for the living, as well as for the Dead. Young men met young women, and they smiled at each other. Old women watched the young with appraising eyes, ever alert for new alliances with different kin groups. Negotiations over territory, squabbles, and other frictions were settled. Competitions were held and gambled over. And, of course, after the Dead had been feted, the living feasted and laughed, and celebrated.Green Spider hovered in the chilly air, watching the sun rise over the platform mound to the southeast. Members of the Blood Clan danced their greeting, peering back occasionally, searching in vain for the withered Elder who normally Sang the blessing and called benedictions down upon them."Poor Green Spider," the voice twirled out of the dawn. "My brother refused to answer your call. You shall not be forsaken. After all, I, too, was once as human as you, and just as anxious to experience Power. I know how your soul seeks."Green Spider had heard the old admonition that no one wanted to be a Dreamer. The desperate crying in his soul beliedit. "I want Power to call the storms and to help my people. I have this craving ... to find the reason of things. To know everything in its place.""To know? Oh, Green Spider, I promise, I shall show you everything. Look down there, just above the canoe landing. Do you see that house?""A great warrior lives there. A horrible and brooding man.""Concentrate, Green Spider. I will allow you one of the gifts of Power. You will be able to see into his soul."At the edge of the bluff, overlooking the precipice leading down to the marshy floodplain, a low mound had been raised to guard one of the canoe landings. Before it stood a single oblong house. Protruding from the four center posts, wooden effigies of Crow, Rattlesnake, Snapping Turtle, and Vulture glared out to the four cardinal directions. On the south side of the big house, two tall posts thrust upward. The wood had been intricately carved to mimic the zigzags of lightning. Faces of the ancestors stared outward, as did the Spirit Animals of War: Eagle, Rattlesnake, Snapping Turtle, and Bobcat. To the top of each pole, a human skull--dyed soot black--had been fixed, the jawbones attached with sinew. The empty orbits stared out over the entrance to the City of the Dead, mindful of the Power and fame of the house's owner.He was called the Black Skull. His past had been filled with terrible deeds--both inflicted and suffered. Some thought him possessed by malicious Spirits. Others suspected that a more malignant evil lingered in Black Skull's soul. Most believed him to be the greatest warrior who had ever lived. All considered him the most dangerous man alive. No one called him a friend.Green Spider shook his head as he watched. "He's haunted, terribly. He doesn't like me much. He doesn't like anyone.""He is a man in pain, searching, as you are. As I am.""What could Many Colored Crow be searching for?""A hero, a Dreamer willing to travel north and recover a sacred Mask. Are you that hero? I will show you Power and Truth, allow you to experience what few other humans have ever experienced, if you will commit yourself to my cause."Green Spider stared uncertainly at the brooding warrior, the first seeds of doubt cast in his soul. Did he only Dream? Or did he truly fly like the Spirit of Many Colored Crow?"Concentrate on the warrior, Green Spider. Look into his soul."As the morning Songs of the Red Bloods filtered through the City of the Dead like predawn mist, Black Skull--armed with his deadly war club--ducked through the low doorway and stepped out to stand between the carved poles. Muscles rolled under the sun-bronzed skin of his massive shoulders. He perched on the balls of his bare feet, poised on powerful legs that corded as he shifted his balanced weight.Scars crisscrossed his flesh, some of them puckered, others ragged. His face, too, had taken its share of abuse. A Copena war club had crushed the left cheekbone, leaving his face lopsided. The jaw had been broken and had mended askew, which added to the off-balanced effect.Hefting his war club, Black Skull bounded to the top of the platform mound behind his house.Despite the wreckage of his face, keen black eyes cataloged the familiar scene, checking, as he did every morning, that everything occupied its place, that nothing had been disturbed in the night. The doorways remained closed on the storage huts, the misty haze of smoke rose lazily over the charnel houses below the death mounds. Here and there, fires crackled up from the crematoriums, accompanied by the chants of mourning relatives.He nodded, shifting his gaze to the east, where the sunrise remained hidden behind thick clouds. His wealth of blue-black hair had been knotted into a single tight bun at the nape of his neck.His scarred right hand gripped the heavy war club, made from the stout wood of an old hickory. The weapon had been carefully crafted, thinned, and polished. The warhead consisted of a stream cobble the size of a goose's egg, ground to a sharp point on one end, then grooved. Green sinew had been used to bind it to the rectangular wooden shaft. When the sinew dried, it had shrunk tight around wood and stone. Inset immediately below the cobble were two copper blades--each sharpened into a murderous spike.As he stared out at the City of the Dead, Black Skull began swinging his club, loosening the muscles in his shoulders. He switched the club from hand to hand, twirling it ever faster as he listened to the weapon's whirring song. Weaving and feinting, he began to leap from foot to foot, shifting and spinning ashe twisted and swung his club. With the grace of a dancer, he pirouetted around the terrace on his mound top, aware of the harmonic perfection of his body as he moved."I would have to travel with that killer? It is said that he murdered his own mother.""He did. Her ghost continues to torment him. Like you, he seeks to surround himself with order, with predictability. Unlike you, he is unwilling to look beyond his rage."With one final leap, Black Skull vaulted into the air, dropping into a crouch as he landed; the wicked club flashed down to stop within a finger's width of the sandy surface of the mound top.Panting, Black Skull straightened, raising the war club to the blessing light of the new day. From under his feet, he could feel the approval of the ancestors, hear their faint voices as the ghosts of the Winter Clan murmured. Throughout the night, the ancestors had slipped through the walls of his house and lurked about Black Skull's bed, irritating his Dreams, blowing eerily across his face, and whispering into his ear.Black Skull filled his lungs with the chilly air and watched his breath condense into a frosty cloud. The odor of cook fires carried to him, and he could sense the eyes of the people checking on him, knowing he practiced with his club every morning.A dog barked, and the crying of a child carried to Black Skull's position atop the Spider mound. In the gray morning, the central temple where the Elders waited seemed particularly ominous.So they continued their vigil--despite the significance of the day. Black Skull shook his head. No good would come of this.Green Spider heard Many Colored Crow whisper, "Go ahead, Black Skull. Worry. It costs nothing more than little pieces of the soul. The time has almost come for me to give my Vision to Green Spider. And, afterward, lonely warrior, your life will never be the same."The sun ascended higher in the cloud-strewn sky as the sacred Songs resonated across the hills and the ghosts were freed to their eternal future. Through it all, the young man, Green Spider, continued to lie facedown on the split-cane mat ... lost in the Spiral."Green Spider, hear me. If you are willing to die and give up all that you love, I will grant you knowledge known to noliving man. You may climb the tree of the world, walk the Land of the Dead, and finally I will open your eyes to the Mysterious One. You will have your Truth, Dreamer.""And I will go and find your Mask.""Prepare yourself. The moment has almost arrived."When the sun reached the highest point in the sky, Green Spider blinked, his aching, tortured body lying on the split-cane mat. He knew what was happening beyond the walls of the temple. As the Feast of the Dead was laid out, people began reaching into steaming cook pots.Time to die. He could feel Many Colored Crow tighten a taloned foot on the lightning, take aim, and cast. The flickering bolt crackled through the clouds, blasting asunder the temple where Green Spider's body lay.People whirled, stunned. In the echoes of the thunderbolt, silence fell over the City of the Dead. Tongues of fire crackled in the wreckage of the temple as dry wood ignited. Within seconds, flames leaped and roared, and piteous cries rang out.Copyright © 1994 by Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear
Excerpted from People of the Lakes by Kathleen O'Neal Gear Copyright © 1995 by Kathleen O'Neal Gear. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Kathleen O'Neal Gear is a former state historian and archaeologist for Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska for the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has twice received the federal government's Special Achievement Award for ""outstanding management"" of our nation's cultural heritage.
W. Michael Gear holds a master's degree in archaeology and has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants.
Together they have written the North America's Forgotten Past series (People of the Morning Star, People of the Songtrail, People of the Mist, People of the Wolf, among others); and the Anasazi Mysteries series. The Gears live in Thermopolis, WY.
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