Set in the 1300s largely in what is now Alabama and Mississippi, this complex novel tracks three wanderers' quest to create peace in violent times. The Sky Hand people control their territory from Split Sky City (Moundville, Ala.), ruled by scheming chief Flying Hawk and his ruthless nephew, war chief Smoke Shield. While they plot to suppress the enslaved Albaamaha people and to conquer their neighbors, three people pursue a mission to restore peace. Old White is a prophet and "the most dangerous man alive"; Trader is a man with blood on his hands and a stunning secret; Two Petals is a shaman woman who says and does everything backwards. Together this curious trio must bring down Flying Hawk and Smoke Shield. The story is loaded with early Native American lore, spirituality, economics, government and daily life; however, it is not for the squeamish, as it also contains plenty of blood and gore, hideous torture, rape and chilling cruelty. Still, blended with the carefully drawn suspense of court intrigues, colorful characters and sharp plot twists, this is a terrific tale. (Jan.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
People of the Thunder: Book Two of the Moundville Duologyby W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear
By 1300 AD, the Sky Hand people had crushed and enslaved the Albaamaha people and built their high-walled capital, Split Sky City, to dominate towns up and down the Black Warrior River. But a violent wind is brewing that may topple the city's mighty walls. Great armies are on the march, and a cunning new leader, Smoke Shield, has risen. He will lead the Sky Hand… See more details below
By 1300 AD, the Sky Hand people had crushed and enslaved the Albaamaha people and built their high-walled capital, Split Sky City, to dominate towns up and down the Black Warrior River. But a violent wind is brewing that may topple the city's mighty walls. Great armies are on the march, and a cunning new leader, Smoke Shield, has risen. He will lead the Sky Hand people either to stunning triumph or to bloody doom.
Old White, Trader, and the mystical Two Petals are journeying across the Choctaw lands straight into the chaos. Old White, the Seeker, must play a delicate game of espionage. For Trader the slightest indiscretionlet alone the temptation of forbidden lovecould lead to disaster. Two Petals, the Contrary, faces the toughest choice of all : She must betray herself and her friends to Smoke Shield or live forever in the backward grip of madness. And Spirit Power has laid a far deadlier trap for them in the rainbow colors just beneath the rolling surface of the Black Warrior River.
A novel of desperate political intrigue and spiritual power, People of the Thunder once again demonstrates the New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear's mastery of American prehistory. Explore the ancestral heritage of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Yuchi peoples as the majesty and genius of the vanished Mississippian mound builders' civilization comes to life.
“The Gears, husband-and-wife archaeologists turned best-selling authors, continue their superbly research and rendered North America’s Forgotten Past series. This novel is as good a place as any of its predecessors to jump in and begin enjoying the authors’ talents.”—Booklist
“Set in the 1300s largely in what is now Alabama and Mississippi, this complex novel tracks three wanderers’ quest to create peace in violent times. Blended with the carefully drawn suspense of court intrigues, colorful characters and sharp plot twists, this is a terrific tale.”—Publishers Weekly
Read an Excerpt
People of the Thunder
By W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2008 W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear
All rights reserved.
The Contrary—the woman once known as Two Petals—walked through the quiet night. Her moccasin-clad feet scuffed the plaza's trampled surface, the sound of leather on clay like the whisper of distant ghosts. Her straight body moved purposefully, rounded hips swaying. Black flowing hair swung even with her buttocks, and she clutched a beaverhide blanket closely about her shoulders. With each exhalation, she watched her breath fog and rise toward the black, star-encrusted sky. Overhead, the constellations seemed to shimmer and wink against the winter night.
Around her, the great Yuchi capital known as Rainbow City slumbered. Even now the size of the city, with its tall, building-topped mounds, thousands of homes, temples, society houses, and granaries, amazed her. The city's sleeping soul surrounded her like the low hum of insect wings. She could feel the immensity of it: all those thousands of souls breathing, mired in Dreams, their passions muted by sleep.
This was the western capital of the Yuchi—called the Tsoyaha in their own language. The city had been built on a high bluff overlooking the Tenasee River. The location had been chosen not only because it was well above the worst of the great river's periodic floods, but it was strategically placed just below the river's bend. Sheer heights on the east and north provided a natural defense, while the western and southern approaches were protected by a tall palisade bolstered by archers' platforms every twenty paces. Rainbow City controlled passage up and down the Tenasee—the trade route carrying goods between the southeastern and northern river systems.
Though Two Petals had walked in the ghostly ruins of Cahokia and climbed its great mound, Rainbow City left her feeling humbled. Cahokia was a place of dried bones; Rainbow City flexed warm nerve and healthy muscle. It lived, thrived, and bristled with energy.
High temples, palaces, and society houses perched atop square earthen mounds capped by colored clays sacred to the Yuchi. The buildings reminded Two Petals of brooding guardians overlooking the empty plaza. The image was strengthened by steeply pitched thatch roofs that jutted arrogantly toward the heavens. Beyond them lay a packed maze of circular houses, their thickly plastered walls and roofs a uniquely Yuchi architectural form. The dark dwellings hunched in the night, as though weighted by the countless sleeping souls they sheltered.
The Contrary needed but close her eyes in order to sense the occupants. She experienced their Dreams the way an anchored rock knew the river's current. The weight of their loves, hatreds, lusts, hungers, triumphs, and fears flowed around her. Were she to surrender her control, all of those demanding souls would filter past her skin, slip through her ears, nostrils, and mouth. Like permeable soil her body and souls would absorb them. Then, in the manner of a saturated earthen dam, she would slowly give way, carried off in bits, pieces, and streamers by the flood.
"But I am not earth." No, I am a great stone. I stand resolute, lapped only by the waves of their Dreams. Feel them, washing up against me, seeking a grasp, only to drain away before the next. Two Petals clasped her arms around her chest, hugging herself for reassurance.
She had come from a small Oneota village in the north, rescued from a charge of witchcraft by Old White. He was the legendary Seeker: the man who had traveled to the four corners of the world. Old White had chosen her to accompany him on this quest to the south. She'd heard of the great cities—places like Red Wing Town—and even seen the abandoned sprawl that had been Cahokia. Nothing had prepared her for this concentration of humanity. On the night of her arrival, the mass of Rainbow City's humanity had overwhelmed her. The impact had left her comatose, deafened, and paralyzed. Now, by dint of will alone, she barely kept panic at bay.
"You must learn to deal with what you have become," Two Petals told herself. "Trouble is coming."
She sighed, sensing the perpetual isolation of a person touched by Power. Forget the Dreams of others; her own were frightening enough. Not so many moons past, while in Cahokia, she had been carried away on Sister Datura's arms—borne off to the Spirit World. The visions she had had of the future remained just behind her eyes, as clear as when she'd first seen them. Were she to beckon, they would come flowing forward. She would again see the terrible black- souled chief, his hand trembling as it reached out to caress her naked skin. Or know the guilt-stricken eyes of a woman whose bloody hands dripped red spatters onto hard ground while she trembled beneath the twists of fate. In other scenes an angry war chief led a thousand warriors through a deadly and silent forest. And finally, swirling water washed over a great scaled hide that shimmered with all the colors of the rainbow.
She fixed on that final image, staring into the serpent's great crystalline eye, as though looking through time and worlds into another reality. As she did, a faint Song began to fill her souls with a tremolo that echoed from her very bones. The melody rose and fell, lifting her spirits like a leaf on the breeze. Two Petals could feel herself rising, spinning, carried aloft on the vibrant notes. She began to Dance across the hard-packed plaza, arms undulating to the beat, souls swaying in time to her skipping feet. The Song played within her.
"Soon," she promised, her body spinning in time to the melody.
As quickly as it had come, the Song faded, leaving her to stand alone and motionless in Rainbow City's great plaza—but one more of the many shadows that mingled in the night. In that instant she felt utterly destitute.
"You are never truly alone," a familiar voice remarked. Over the years, she had grown used to the voices that spoke in her head. Sometimes they told convincingly of things she knew were untrue. Other times, they offered a startling insight into the confused reality around her.
This voice, though, she knew. Two Petals turned, seeing the eerie outline of Deer Man. He stood off to the side, watching her through large liquid-brown eyes. In the beginning, it had bothered her that only she could see him. That Deer Man could be so apparent to her, but not to Trader or Old White, had perplexed her. In the end, she simply accepted Deer Man's presence as a manifestation of her Contrary Power. Half-man, half-deer, he had a human face; deer antlers and ears sprouted from his head, and the sleek hair that covered his body could have graced a buck's winter hide.
Frowning, she studied him, wondering how he managed to balance on those slender deer legs that ended in delicately hoofed feet, or why he never left tracks in the soft dust or silty mud. Why the oddity of it continued to puzzle her was elusive. He was after all a Spirit Being. She often had seen him standing on water, waves washing through his feet, and other times with his nether regions passing through some object like a pestle and mortar, cane wall, or fallen log. As with so many of the voices that spoke to her, or the Spirits, ghosts, and other oddities she saw, she had wondered if Deer Man were real.
"Real?" Deer Man asked, hearing her thoughts. "Are any of them real? Old White? Trader? The Kala Hi'ki?" He paused. "Are you real, Contrary?"
She tightened her arms around her, feeling the warm beaverhide cape, aware of the soft swell of her breasts, of the skin, muscle, and ribs beneath. The rise and fall of her chest with each breath she took reassured her.
"I am. At least for this moment." She frowned. "Can't say for sure about tomorrow ... or yesterday. Sometimes the world slips and shifts around me. It just up and moves, and I lose track of what's what. Who's whom. Things become muddled and rushed. Then, when it all stops, I'm not sure where I am, or how I got there."
"Come. Let me show you something." Deer Man turned, walking off toward the south.
Two Petals followed, head cocked as she watched his hoofed feet. Though Deer Man took long steps, his hooves never seemed to make actual contact with the earth; and though he moved at her speed, his feet seemed to be making faster progress than he was.
"How do you do that?"
"The same way every other creature does," he answered. "It is no different than the way you move backward in time."
Two Petals didn't answer. So many things were riddles. That the world ran backward around her was just one more.
"Still bothers you, doesn't it?"
"That you're Contrary. That you can never be normal like Trader, Old White, or anyone else."
She nodded. "A part of me, way deep down inside, still wants to be like normal people. But it is growing smaller and smaller. Soon, as we get closer to the end, it will shrink away completely. All that will be left is the Contrary. Two Petals will have been like a raindrop in the sunlight."
"The Kala Hi'ki has helped. I can see it in you: a strength that you didn't know you possessed."
She remembered the night when she, Trader, and Old White had first landed at Rainbow City. She had been frightened, overwhelmed by the images of a future that soon would be her past. The flood of souls around her had washed over and through her, drowning and suffocating. She wasn't sure exactly what had happened, but Trader had told her later that she'd cried out and fallen over. He said that she'd turned as stiff as wood, her muscles and joints locked and immovable. He'd carried her to the Kala Hi'ki's temple like some sort of oddly shaped log. All she remembered was a thick blackness until she'd awakened in the Kala Hi'ki's room. The terror of it was still too close.
Power had brought her here. Well, Power and the Kala Hi'ki's not-too-friendly and well-armed warriors. During her long trip southward from her native Oneota lands, she'd caught glimpses of the Kala Hi'ki. Even as far away as Cahokia, she had seen him in her visions: a terrible man covered with burn scars, his nose slashed away to leave two gaping nostrils. He wore a cloth wrapped over the empty sockets of his eyes, and his maimed hand had reached out for her.
"He brought you here to destroy you," Deer Man reminded.
"Instead he Healed me."
"You were a mystery to him. Trader was merely a temptation. And Old White? Ah, in the end he would have been the Kala Hi'ki's destruction. Mystery, temptation, destruction. Such a curious combination Power weaves."
"Old White is dangerous?"
"The Seeker is the most dangerous man alive. Not even the Kala Hi'ki fully understands the Seeker's obsession ... or the dark secret he carries hidden between his souls."
"Where are you taking me?" Two Petals asked as they passed the base of the Warrior Moiety's large temple. The structure had been built atop a square mound, the high building having a commanding view of the plaza. Protruding from the thatch roof's peak were carvings of Falcon, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and Snapping Turtle, their dark eyes glaring down at her as though the very Spirit beasts themselves watched her.
"We're going there." Deer Man pointed past several houses to a large, square-sided structure that rose above a low mound. The walls beneath the overhanging thatch roof had been plastered black at the bottom with a red band just below the eaves. The Spirit poles standing outside the west-facing doorway had been carved into the shape of vultures.
At that moment a shift in the night breeze carried the pungent odor of decay. "It's a charnel house."
"Oh, yes." Deer Man inclined his antlered head, the pointed tines gleaming in the night. "Come, let me show you something."
Two Petals glanced warily around at the darkened houses, corn cribs, and ramadas as she followed Deer Man to the entrance. Nothing stirred, the silence oddly discomforting.
Deer Man ducked into the low doorway, his wide antlers passing through the thick-plastered wall as if it were smoke.
Two Petals placed her hand on the unforgiving plaster, feeling its dense resistance. She shook her head, duckedpast the door hanging, and emerged into a large room. Benches lined each wall, and raised platforms had been placed in rows throughout the center of the room. Most of these supported corpses in varying states of decomposition. The intense odor hung at the back of her nose and cloyed in her throat. She couldn't help but make a face.
"Why do you wince?" Deer Man asked. "You are a Contrary. The smell of death is just the odor of life turned backward."
"I ... I'm just not used to it." She stepped forward, staring down at the closest of the bodies. This one had been a young man. His flesh sagged loosely on the bones, dry eyes recessed into the orbits of his skull. White teeth were bared behind hardened lips frozen in a rictus. Each of the man's ribs pressed out through the skin. His belly was a hollow, and the bones of the young man's hips seemed to jut up uncomfortably. His penis looked like a dried tuber, testicles like stones in the stretched scrotum. Flesh sagged on his thin thighs, the knees like knotted roots.
"He was young," Deer Man told her. "They called him 'Chigger.' Said he was a bit of a nuisance. He didn't pay attention to the curious black mold that was growing on old acorns. Anyone with sense would have thrown them out."
Two Petals stared down at the wasted corpse. "Where are his souls?" She looked around, curious now as she cataloged the various bodies supine on the pole racks. Some were swollen with gas, others barely more than skeletons.
"That's what I brought you here to see. The souls are all around you, waiting. If you clear yourself of the noise made by the living, you will be able to recognize them."
She gestured to the bodies. "What will the Yuchi do with them?"
"When the time is right, the High Priest will slice what little flesh remains from the bones. He will pick away the loose tendons, strip off the scalp and any clinging tissue. Once the bones are cleaned, they will be Blessed, tied together, and given to the family for final burial in one of their mounds. Or maybe laid to rest in a place where the souls of the dead will remain close by and can help protect the living from the dangers in the Spirit world."
She tried to quiet her revulsion. As she did, she could make out the faintest yellow-orange objects, like dim lights glowing along the walls. Others hovered near the ceiling.
"Yes, you begin to see. Those are the souls of the dead."
"Why did you bring me here? I am not of these people. Why would my souls wish to lurk about watching my body rot? Who would I want to protect?"
"Exactly." Deer Man smiled. "I wanted you to see how your body would end up should you fail to fulfill your Visions."
"You mean if I don't find my husband?"
Deer Man smiled. "He will find you when the time is right. It is, however, your decision whether to go to him, or not. People fear him for a reason, and it will take an extraordinary woman to go willingly into his lair. I wanted you to understand what would happen if you gave in to fear, temptation, or desire. You dare not love, Contrary. You can only surrender yourself to the future."
She reached down, placing a finger on the sunken flesh inside the bowl of Chigger's hip. It gave, soft but leathery. When she withdrew her finger, the depression remained. She wondered what his souls thought of her poking him like that. Looking up, she saw two of the glowing lights drop, as though in concern. "Oh, I understand just fine, Deer Man."
"Are you sure?"
"I just have to take the most terrible man alive into my bed. And keep him from discovering what is happening right beneath his nose."
And if I fail, we will all die, and end up in a charnel house just like this one.
Excerpted from People of the Thunder by W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear. Copyright © 2008 W. Michael Gear and 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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