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The Foot Dancers
Flute Dog, had been married for the space of one warm spring night when the Horse Searchers came home. First, Young Owl gave her father a black-and-white horse, and then there was a feast and she went to live in Young Owl's tent. When they fell asleep the sky was wheeling toward dawn and Toad Nose, the Night Watcher, was yawning by his campfire. And then Toad Nose was stamping and dancing through the camp, howling and pointing, and they fell out of their tent into the morning, rubbing their eyes, to see the cloud of dust coming over the Grass.
No one had really thought they would come back. All the horses that the Dry River people owned were descended from the same two, who had come to the Buffalo Horn people in the days of the grandmothers, and made more horses. Anyone could see how horses would shift the ground between people and the buffalo so that there would be meat all the time, and so the Dry River people had stolen some. Finally, the Dry River people and the Buffalo Horn had been fighting over horses for so long that there were ghosts in the air. Both chiefs knew something had to be done. That was when they sent two Dry River riders, and a brother and sister from the Buffalo Horn, to look for new horses in the Cities-in-the-West.
Anyone knew, that the Cities-in-the-West were full of hive people who lived indoors all year and never saw the sun, and that was where First Horse was said to have come from. There were rumors out of the west of new, strange monster people, who might have come with the horses or brought them. It was a daring thing for the four to do, like trying to climb the sky, andeveryone thought they had ridden into legend. No one really expected them to come back.
But it couldn't be anyone else. There were four on horseback, amid a herd of loose horses and a pair of dogs. A black horsetail flew from the lead rider's spear and his shield was painted with the spiral suns of the Buffalo Horn. The Dry River chief sent a fast rider south to the Buffalo Horn camp to tell diem, and Toad Nose, who was head of the Horse Clan, and Howler, the tall, wild-eyed chief of the Holy Clowns, put on horse heads and went out to meet the riders.
Spotted Colt and Mud Turtle looked different now, was the first thing Flute Dog thought, while she stood on the edge of the crowd that gathered around them. They looked like people who had been to die edge of the world, and she wondered what they had seen.
Everyone talked at once until the Dry River chief, who was Spotted Colt's father, roared at them to be quiet. He was trying to keep his dignity, but he couldn't help dancing in the grass in his delight. The new horses whickered at the smell of the Dry River horses and seemed happy to be there.
The new horses had hard gray shoes like crescent moons pounded onto their hooves with spines of the same stony stuff. It was something made by the monsters who were living in the Cities-in-the-West now, Spotted Colt said. The Buffalo Horn girl had died there and no one from the Grass should go back there again.
Flute Dog could see now that the woman with them wasn't the Buffalo Horn girl after all, but another one who, it turned out, had run away from the Cities with Spotted Colt. Spotted Colt's mother looked at this girl suspiciously and the children clustered around her, patting her to see if she felt like ordinary people.
Young Owl was more interested in the new horses. He dug with his fingernail at the half moon of hard stuff on a buckskin mare's hoof. "It's like stone." He beckoned Flute Dog over.
"That woman who came with them says the pale people make it by melting rocks," Toad Nose said, bending over, too.
"Nobody can melt rocks."
"Somebody did once. That's what made obsidian. Rabbit Dancer says," he added. Rabbit Dancer was a shaman and knew things that weren't told to other people.
"This isn't obsidian. " The mare snorted in YoungOwl's ear and he let her foot down.
Thad Nose rubbed his chin. "They all have to be taken off. Their hooves are growing and these stone things don't grow. Mud Turtle says he pried some of them loose with a stone, but he says it takes a long time." Toad Nose looked important Mud Turtle was his youngest aunt's son, and now a man whose name would mean things, whose journey would be painted on the calendar hide of the Dry River to mark a hinge year in the history of his people.
Flute Dog rubbed the buckskin mare's nose while they talked about how to get the things off her feet. The new horses seemed just like any others, but Spotted Colt and Mud Turtle had stolen them from a camp of pale people, and now they knew it was pale people who had brought horses into the world. That seemed as odd as any creation story of breath blown into mud. And what had brought the pale people no one knew.
It was the horse with the long ears that convinced her of their reality, their actual habitation in the World she lived in too. The buckskin mare whickered and he lifted his head, like a rabbit with a horse nose on his face. Flute Dog's eyes went wide. If there could be a horse like that, then there could be men with pale skin.
Mud Turtle was unloading the packs on the long-eared...