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What Nea wants more than anything, is to become a veterinarian. With her spirit companion, a great cat named Gaganan, she leaves the reservation to brave the white man's world to go to college. To her surprise, she meets a young man who is 'unmagic' and two of the white man's version of the wonder worker. One she befriends. The other... is a power hungry young wizard who will stop at nothing to possess her.
But Nea has a secret beyond her magic, one not even she knows. And another being greater even than the wizard has marked her for its own.
"It is a full scholarship," said Seven Trees pausing to take a puff from the decorated pipe being passed about the Council circle. Her old voice was still strong in the dim, smoky room. "So… there will be no financial burden on the tribe. Not to mention a huge opportunity for our little Silver."
Elk Whistle accepted the pipe from her with a chuckle. "You should look again, Seven Trees. Our Sooneawa is not so little any more. She is a grown woman."
"Not yet," snapped the sullen voice of Cold Heart of the Mountain. "She is still only 17. And until that time all decisions of her fate are ours to make. And I say she stays here."
"Daki'inde!" exclaimed Seven Trees. "How can you ask that of her? She dreams of being a vet and here is her chance, her only chance I might add, to go to University to become one and you want her to throw it away? When was the last time one of the People was extended such generosity?"
"Exactly," she humphed, jabbing the air with a bony finger. "When? Why now, eh? What good ever came of what the white man has to offer?" She shook her head, sending the wooden beads adorning her braid wraps rattling. "No. It is for her own good we keep her here. She is a magic child. We cannot allow the white world to corrupt her or steal her from us."
"She may be magic, Daki," came the calm voice of the chief, Falling Elk, "but she cannot make magic. As such, her absence will be no hardship to the tribe. Her return however, will bring us great things."
Cold Heart turned to the old chief. "Not what I have seen," she sniffed imperiously. "Great tragedy will befall if she leavesthe protection of Silver Rose Mountain. She will suffer at the hands of those white devils, be tainted by them."
The Chief, to her surprise, nodded. "Lizard has visited me too, Daki'inde. He brought me powerful dreams and I tell you this, if you ask her in ten years if it was all worth it, she will answer unequivocally yes . Either way, it is her choice to make."
"She is my niece, old man," she growled, desperation beginning to mar her judgment. "Don't you forget that. As her only living relative--"
"Don't argue with me, old woman," he said with a calm voice that nevertheless cut her off as sharply as if he had snapped. "You gave up the right to do so ten years ago, when your sister died. You decided then that you did not want to deal with a child and surrendered her to the tribe for raising, even though that meant you would not inherit her property. If the girl wishes to go to this Cordel University, then I say she should be allowed."
"The girl is a Speaker , Falling Elk," she said. "We cannot allow the whites to find out we still possess magic. She is too valuable, I tell you!"
At this, another woman spoke, this one older than them all. Her hair was so white it was almost translucent, and her braids fell in coils on the floor. Behind her on a short perch stood a raven easily a meter tall with an ancient gleam in his fierce black eye. Her own eyes were nearly solid white, clouded over by cataracts she refused to have removed. "The child a Speaker may be, but she is not a Memory . As such, it matters not if she leaves us because she can never leave us."
Seven Trees frowned, passing the pipe to the older woman with a small bow. "How can that be, Spider?"
The old hands reached for the pipe, found it without error though she never turned her face. Only the raven's head moved to watch. "Think about the girl's name, child," she said, took a long puff of the pipe, let the smoke slowly curl up and around her head, making strange shapes in the air which the bird watched intently. "She will take us with her wherever she goes. She will always be in the 'shadow of the mountain'."
"Just because her name loosely translates to Silver Rose Mountain, and I mean loosely , does not…"
"Loosely," Spider said. "Which places her in the shadow of the thing."
Cold Heart tried one last argument. "What about her Niijii Manidoo ? It is unlikely that the school will let her bring a pet. It is not safe for her to go without him," she added with finality.
"Actually," grinned Elk Whistle, his eyes dancing, "I have read these… pamphlets. One of the six dormitories are encouraging the students to bring a pet, something small and undisruptive. There is a group of graduate students running an experiment on the campus, testing the theory that students allowed animals will be calmer and more receptive to study and thus get higher grades. Gaganan will not be a problem."
"I still say…"
Spider had had enough. "Cease your prattle, girl. You make my head ache. You have lost. Accept this with grace."
"We are agreed then, all but Daki'inde?" asked the Chief.
Everyone nodded, even old Pipestone who had sat swaying silently to some tune only he could hear throughout the whole argument.
"Then the child will be allowed to accept the scholarship." Cold Heart silently fumed, refusing the pipe when it was passed to her. "Now we sit and smoke," said Falling Elk, accepting the pipe. "Mmmm, good tobacco, brother. Some of your best I'd say."
Copyright © 2007 Sandra Leigh.