People of the Mist

People of the Mist

4.2 4
by Kathleen O'Neal Gear, W. Michael Gear

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With People of the Mist, bestselling authors W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear take us to the Chesapeake Bay of six hundred years ago, when the unprovoked and brutal murder of a young woman on the eve of her wedding threatens to turn the entire Algonquin Nation against itself in a brutal war that could destroy them as a people.

No ordinary woman


With People of the Mist, bestselling authors W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear take us to the Chesapeake Bay of six hundred years ago, when the unprovoked and brutal murder of a young woman on the eve of her wedding threatens to turn the entire Algonquin Nation against itself in a brutal war that could destroy them as a people.

No ordinary woman, Red Knot was the heir to the Greenstone Clan and the future leader of the independent villages. Her death has shattered all alliances and left a power void that several ambitious clan chiefs see as their destiny to fill. The very air vibrates with the drums and war cries of the rallying warriors.
Into the eye of this brewing storm steps the bitter old man they call The Panther. Feared as a sorcerer, The Panther is the only one with the power to demand to be heard by all. But as he digs deeper into the ever-thickening web of lies surrounding the murder, and uncovers darker, more deeply rooted secrets, he fears there may be no words to stop the impending bloodshed.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Knowing that her granddaughter, Red Knot, loves High Fox does not keep Hunting Hawk, the Greenstone Clan tribal leader, from promising her in marriage to Copper Thunder, a powerful chieftain of another clan. When Red Knot is murdered before the marriage takes place, chaos erupts, and High Fox is fingered as the assassin. High Fox's trump card is Sun Conch, who begs the Panther to leave his isolated dwelling and help her absolve High Fox of the crime. The Panther, a mysterious elder whom many fear and call a witch, joins the fray, and thus begins the unfolding of an intricate drama. Masters of the Native American historical fiction genre, the Gears focus on the pre-Columbian Chesapeake Bay Native Americans in the ninth book of their "First North Americans" series. Suffused with suspense, their imaginative story offers a fascinating portrait of an ancient matrilineal culture. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/97.]Mary Ellen Elsbernd, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights
From the Publisher

“A first-rate murder mystery, anthropological information on pre-European Native America, a slight dash of sex (mostly innocent), and plenty of politics. Whew! The amazing thing is that it is all done so well.” —Booklist (starred review) on People of the Mist

“Simple prose brightened by atmospheric detail sweeps this fluid, suspenseful mix of anthropological research and character-driven mystery to a solid, satisfying solution.” —Publishers Weekly on People of the Mist

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Tom Doherty Associates
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North America's Forgotten Past Series
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People of the Mist

By Kathleen O'Neal Gear, W. Michael Gear

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 1997 Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-1781-4


Red Knot stopped where the palisade overlapped to form a protective entrance to Flat Pearl Village. Here, defenders could remain sheltered and shoot attacking warriors restricted in the narrow space between the posts. She stared nervously out into the morning, hesitant at stepping from the palisade's security. What she was doing wasn't wrong. She told herself that over and over.

The sky had grayed with the new dawn and mist ghosted over the calm water in the inlet. To her right, the canoes down at the sandy landing were barely visible, their outlines blurred by the clinging haze. Above the canoe landing, the gardens lay fallow now, the corn and beans harvested from withered brown plants. Here and there, grass-thatched houses stood among the fields. Gentle streamers of blue smoke rose from the smoke holes in their roofs. Beyond the gardens, at the foot of the tree-covered ridge, the stubbly cornfields gave way to the thick forest.

Red Knot glanced back at Flat Pearl Village. The longhouses, the House of the Dead, and the storage buildings stood silently in the gloom, their rounded shapes reminding her of hunchbacked monsters.

Grandmother Hunting Hawk's brown-and-white dog watched her with pricked ears. Like her mistress, the animal was worn by the years, her joints swollen and painful. She hobbled a few paces and studied Red Knot with mild curiosity.

Odd, Red Knot thought. Hunting Hawk usually kept the old bitch close to her bed on cool mornings like this. Why was the dog out wandering? With so many people in the village, perhaps the animal was just on edge.

Red Knot studied the path she would have to take. Time was running out. She cocked her ear, listening. Not a sound came from the houses behind her, or from the predawn forest surrounding the village and its fields. Soon, however, the winter birds would begin to sing, and the village to stir. The honored guests would be fed before starting off.

The guests—all had come to Flat Pearl Village in her honor. Red Knot clamped her jaw in determination. Echoes of her grandmother's endless lectures spun through her head. Honor. Duty. Respect. They blurred into meaningless words.

I owe something to myself. I can't be what they want me to be, go where they want me to go. Memories of Copper Thunder's face haunted her. Even in relaxed moments, he looked more like a cunning witch than a man. If the thought of him even touching her brought a twist of revulsion to her stomach, how could she allow him to mount her? She might be Shell Comb's daughter, but the very thought of taking her rightful place and stepping into that tangled web sickened her.

Her village, clan, and family—she was letting them all down. Red Knot closed her eyes, imagining the gray world around her, damp, cold, and misty. Like everything else in my life.

She knotted her fist in the cloak that covered her shoulders, and slipped out of the palisade. Her moccasin-clad feet walked silently and swiftly, cutting across the frosted gardens. As she hurried, she could just see her breath in the half-light.

The winter-bare trees along the riverbank lay no more than two bow shots ahead. Once she reached them, she would have taken the first step toward freedom, and a brighter future.

I am a woman now. The thought stuck in her mind. And, yes, she felt different—but oddly the same. Four days past, she'd stepped out of the Women's House, the menstrual lodge, for the first time. She had been ritually washed and decked out in resplendent finery. Her face still stung from the new tattoos on her chin and cheeks.

In response to the runners who had been sent out at the onset of her cramps, guests had arrived from the surrounding villages. Speeches had been given, and gifts exchanged. Her clan had prepared a marvelous feast in her honor, the wooden dishes piled high with venison, duck, oysters, roasted corn, steaming tuckahoe, and smoked fish.

To everyone's amazement, Copper Thunder, accompanied by four canoes of warriors, had arrived on the last day of the celebration.

Red Knot had danced before him and the rest of the honored guests. Despite the presence of Copper Thunder, she had danced for young High Fox, her steps driven by desperation as his eyes gleamed for her.

As she thought of him, her heart quickened. Now, or never, she had to take this one chance at happiness. What would happen, how it would all work out, she had no idea; but others had done as she was doing. They had become legendary among her passionate people. Their stories were sung in the Weroansqua's Great House. Perhaps, one day, songs would be sung about Red Knot and High Fox, and the love that had driven them to abandon their clans.

She hurried through the trees, darting between the boles. To her right, water lapped at the sandy shore. To her left, she could see the dim haze of one of Hunting Hawk's cornfields. Once past that, she would head left, skirting the cleared land, and climb the steep ridge on the old deer trail.

"I'll be waiting at Oyster Shell Landing." High Fox's words echoed. His solemn eyes haunted her, his handsome face radiating love. "Meet me at first light."

No, this wasn't wrong. Not in the eyes of the gods. They only reacted in rage over lying, murder, or that most horrible of crimes, incest.

She ran, feet pattering on the damp leaf mat. Over the years all the fallen branches had been scavenged for cooking fires, so she need only worry about roots that might trip her.

She almost missed the trail, but, heart beating, she sprinted up the steep winding path, her breath beginning to labor. The white-tailed deer had originally forged this route down to the cornfields, but they ran it no longer. Her people had all but hunted them out on the narrow neck of land surrounding the village. Now, only occasional deer raided the fields, and they did so at risk of an arrow. Was it not better to have the deer in the people's belly than their corn in the deer's?

She panted up the ridge, and thanked the Spirits that they had granted this warm spell and held off the snow that would have betrayed her tracks. Her toes drove into the soft, mulched soil.

When she reached the great beech tree, its smooth bark marred by the years, she stopped to catch her breath. Six men would have to stretch fingertip to fingertip to reach around the tree's circumference. She stepped past the beech, out onto the rounded ridgetop, into the shade of the other forest giants. A robin chirped in the high canopy of bare branches, and a squirrel skittered across the fallen leaves.

Morning was coming. She had to hurry.

Red Knot took a deep breath, and started forward. She had only to cross the ridgetop, then descend the steep path on the other side to the—

"Just as I thought," a familiar voice called from behind her. "It's all in the blood."

Red Knot spun, gasping, the worst of her fears suddenly realized, as a blanket-wrapped figure stepped from the deep morning shadows behind a walnut tree. "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be in your ..."

The blanketed assailant moved with uncanny speed. Red Knot glimpsed the war club, heard it whistle as it sliced the air....

The loud crack of breaking bone echoed across the quiet misty hills.


Shell Comb, first daughter of Hunting Hawk, hesitated as she looked out from the shadowed doorway of the House of the Dead. She took a moment to steady herself.

Today she began life again. She had been cleansed, purged of the mistakes of the past and the price they'd exacted from her soul. She could start over, live as a Weroansqua's daughter should. She had proven to herself that she was worthy of the awesome responsibility of authority. Still, as she watched the clearing beyond the doorway, she nervously smoothed her hands on her deerhide skirt.

Several people moved in the plaza, attending to various tasks. Rosebud's daughter, White Otter, carried a water jug toward the gate. Old Blue Moon urinated on the back of his house, too blind to find his way outside the palisade. Shell Comb started when she saw the Great Tayac, Copper Thunder, slip in through the opening in the palisade, glance furtively around, and stride arrogantly toward Hunting Hawk's Great House.

Shell Comb coughed and rubbed her sore windpipe.

Where has he been? And to what purpose? The Great Tayac had no allies here, and wouldn't have until properly married into the Greenstone Clan. How long had he been gone from the village? A cold shiver raced down her back. Well, if his absence meant trouble, she would know soon enough.

She needed all her wits with one cycle of her life finished, and another beginning. This time, she would be smarter, wiser. The final stitch had been sewn into a bag too long open. Why, then, did her heart leap and her muscles tremble?

She made sure no one looked in her direction, then stepped out to meet this new day. With steely control, she forced herself to walk across the plaza toward the Great House. The Guardians, upright posts carved into the likenesses of human and animal faces, watched her pass the smoking fire pit in the plaza's center. The ground here was hard-packed from the dancers the night before.

Old man Mockingbird tottered toward her, blinking in the half-light. He heard her cough, and tilted his head to squint at her. "Best tend to that, girl," he warned. "Shouldn't be out in this cold."

"Thank you, Elder." And Shell Comb hurried past.

Hunting Hawk's Great House nestled beneath the spreading branches of three mulberry trees: a sign of her status. The house had been constructed of two rows of black locust interspersed with cut red cedar saplings, their butts set into the ground. The limber tops had been bent over and lashed together to create an inverted U. Cross braces of red maple gave the framework strength, bound together with pliable yellow pine roots, and the whole house had been covered with sheets of bark. The interior was six paces wide and nearly forty in length. Woven matting divided the Great House into three separate rooms.

Shell Comb ducked through the low doorway and made her way across the mat-covered floor. Bedsteads, made of poles laced with a wicker of saplings and bark, lined the walls. Mats had been laid over the wicker, and then layers of deerhide added to form snug beds. As she passed, people rolled up their bedding and placed the matting and hides to the side to create sitting room.

No one so much as glanced at her. But surely they should have viewed her differently, or at least sensed the change in her life. Today, as never before, she had proven herself worthy to be her mother's daughter. Any question of her ability to take over this building, and control of clan business, was now behind her. In the presence of the blessed ancestors, she had atoned for her lack of judgment. Black Spike might never have been. Life had come full circle. Balance had been restored.

The Great House, like all those in the lineage holding, belonged to old Hunting Hawk. Upon her death, since she had no brother to inherit, the lineage holdings—houses, land, fishing and hunting grounds, shell beds, slaves, and property—would pass to Shell Comb.

She looked around at the wealth that would be hers. Large baskets were hung from the walls, brimming with corn, dried squash, acorns, hickory nuts, chinquapins, chestnuts, and beans. The tightly tied bundles of hemp stacked to one side waited for women to process the silky fibers into cordage or soft fabrics. Flat Pearl Village controlled rich resources, and its people rarely went hungry.

Copper Thunder sat beside the central fire, watching Shell Comb with oddly luminous eyes. She glanced at the big, round-bottomed ceramic pot that rested over the glowing coals. It held a steaming stew of corn, oysters, squash, and diced fish. As second in line to Hunting Hawk, her first concern was to insure the well-being of her family's guests.

This morning, Shell Comb would have gladly sidestepped that duty. She wanted nothing more than to be alone, to have the time to think and reflect. But as she looked around, she did not see her mother. Hunting Hawk was gone, and with such an important guest seated before her fire! Shell Comb marched forward. Facing these people, especially this powerful man, would be an ordeal, but it couldn't be helped.

She tried to keep her hand from trembling as she stirred the fire. Fatigue weighted her bones. Would it betray her? How long had it been since she'd had a full night's sleep? From the onset of Red Knot's first cramps, Shell Comb had attended to the girl, sending messengers, supervising meals, coordinating the arrival of the guests, orchestrating the dances, and struggling to behave as a Weroansqua's daughter should. Her own competence surprised her, hinting at reserves she had never known.

Responsibility—as befitted the future Weroansqua of Flat Pearl Village—bore a terrible price. Why hadn't she understood before? She glanced down at her right hand, worked the muscles, and made a tight fist. What incredible power she would wield.

Shell Comb remained a beautiful woman despite the thirty-two Comings of the Leaves she had survived, and the six children she had passed from her womb. Some said her large dark eyes could snare a man's soul and bend it to her will. The story had always amused her. She recognized her vanity, moderated it when necessary, and surrendered to it when circumstances permitted. And she had surrendered much too often. But when Ohona and Okeus had battled for the world after the Creation, they'd insured that, hadn't they?

Trace your ancestry back, and there you'll find Okeus, staring at you with that malicious smile on his face. Face it, Shell Comb, your seed sprang from his loins. No matter how many generations removed, you are still his daughter.

She loosened her feather mantle from around her shoulders and let it slide down around the curve of her hips as the fire's heat reached her. The chill was finally leaving her bones—as the sadness and confusion eventually might.

Of her six children the third had died at birth; five, two girls and three boys, had lived to be named. Her oldest son, White Bone, had drowned in his sixteenth summer when he was caught on open water by a terrible storm. His canoe had been found beached on the Western Shore, but his body had never been recovered. Her third son, Grebe, had been killed in his fifth year by lightning: his seared body had lain under a splintered black oak. The scar could still be seen, spiraling down the tree's bark.

Fever had taken her eldest daughter barely a year after her birth. She had never been lucky with children. But then, as Hunting Hawk could confirm—provided she ever dared to—that trait ran all through the lineage. Do I dare to try and have another?

At times, she wondered if perhaps some evil had slithered inside her, impregnating her with a dark spirit that blighted the fruit of her loins. Where else had the insatiable craving come from? Why had she thrown caution to the winds so many times? Why had the wrong seed taken hold so often?

She shivered at the thought, aware of that same desire stirring as she studied Copper Thunder.

The Great Tayac crouched across the fire from her, arms clasped around his drawn-up knees. No one would call him a handsome man. His nose was too large for his face; the jaw made a person think of a snapping turtle's. Forked eye tattoos surrounded his eyes, and a black band followed his jawline across his mouth. Older tattoos had faded and blended with his dye-stained skin. He wore his hair in a roach, both sides of his scalp shaved. But when he looked at Shell Comb, that penetrating stare sent a shiver through her. Secrets hid behind those stygian eyes, along with fleeting glimpses of his quick intelligence. He'd kill at the slightest pretext, and when he struck, it would be like a timber rattler: lightning fast, ruthless, and equally cold-blooded.

We promised Red Knot to this serpent? What have we gotten ourselves into? Her harried soul frayed further.

Copper Thunder wore a brown bearskin over his left shoulder, leaving his right breast bare. A large conch gorget, suspended from a choker, hung at the hollow of his throat. The polished white shell was etched with the effigy of a great spider. Below it hung a necklace of copper-tube beads, a wealth of them. They gleamed in the firelight. The colorful flaps of his breechclout hung down front and back. A decorated deerhide sash crisscrossed his belly; the shells sewn to it sparkled in the firelight. He'd laid a folded blanket beside him. From the dampness on his leggings and moccasins, he'd been far out beyond the palisade.

He turned his gaze to the flames that leapt around the burning wood. Behind him, ten warriors sat cross-legged on mats. They'd already rolled their sleeping robes and stored them near the longhouse door in preparation for leaving. They talked in low tones, and laughed as they discussed yesterday's feast and last night's Newly Made Woman Dance.

Copper Thunder pointed to the stew. "Is it ready?" he asked in his heavy accent.


Excerpted from People of the Mist by Kathleen O'Neal Gear, W. Michael Gear. Copyright © 1997 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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.

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. With her husband, W. Michael Gear, she is the co-author of many books, including the North America’s Forgotten Past series (People of the Longhouse, The Dawn Country, People of the Mist, People of the Wolf, among others); and the Anasazi Mysteries series. She and her husband live in Thermopolis, WY.
W. Michael Gear, who holds a master's degree in archaeology, has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is currently principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants. With his wife, Kathleen O’Neal Gear, he has written the international and USA Today bestselling First North Americans Series and Anasazi Mystery Series.

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People of the Mist 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the book. I enjoy historical fiction and then to have a murder who done it added as well.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent murder-mystery and very informative regarding prehistoric culture of the Chesapeake Bay region. Strong, unique characters and plenty of political intrigue.