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Spring came gently to the expansive prairie. A siren floating over her lover, she caressed fragile green blades emerging through soil moist from recent rainfall. Rippling eagerly in response, miles of immature grass celebrated the birth and renewal of the world.
Fluttering among the tender shoots, meadowlarks greeted the new day with joyful song. At the approach of two young women, one songbird flew upward in a startling flash of yellow and black.
Drops of dew scattered like tiny iridescent jewels when one woman jumped in front of the other, then twirled in a circle. Excitement hummed through Winona.
"I am so happy." She clasped her hands over her heart. "Tonight I become wife to Hoka Luta." And wife to an important medicine man, she added silently.
Walking at her side, Spotted Deer yanked hard on Winona's arm to prevent her friend from stepping barefoot on a sharp rock. "Pay attention where you walk or put your moccasins back on."
Winona bit back a smile. Spotted Deer did not share her enthusiasm for early mornings. But she stopped and put her plain, smoked-hide shoes back on. It wouldn't do to cut her foot and not be able to dance and celebrate after her wedding.
As they made their way downhill to the stream, Winona saw several women belonging to her Hunkpapa tribe strolling by the river. Scattered across the prairie, several other Sioux tribes were camped. Many had come to witness and celebrate the marriage of the daughter of a respected Sioux chief to a powerful Sioux medicine man.
It was early, yet many were already up, eager, as was she, to start the day. Deep laughter from the left drew her attention. Three men were returning from their baths.
Her gaze sharpened. Behind them she glimpsed Hoka Luta, her soon-to-be mate, emerging from the brush-lined stream. Winona veered slightly to the left. In the early dawn Hoka Luta's bare torso gleamed wetly. It pleased her that he, too, favored early risings.
Though Hoka Luta had arrived with a dozen warriors at his side, he walked alone. Staring at his profile like the love-struck woman she was, Winona eagerly anticipated starting each day with a solitary morning walk with her husband.
"Is he not the most handsome and bravest warrior?" Her voice softened, turning dreamy with anticipation of the life they soon would share.
Winona lowered her gaze as she and Spotted Deer drew closer, but couldn't stop herself from peering beneath her lashes to catch glimpses of Hoka Luta's muscular golden frame. Her heart fluttered, making her feel like a young girl who'd just discovered the mysterious wonders of the opposite sex.
A secretive smile curved her lips. Maybe she hador would soon. For as long as she could remember she'd set her mind and heart on finding a mate who'd love her and make her soul sing.
Growing up with parents whose love seemed to grow stronger with each passing year had made Winona determined to find the same. Hoka Luta, whose name meant Red Badger, was everything she'd ever wanted in a man.
Like the badger, Hoka Luta was tenacious, bold and ferocious. His sheer size made him a force to be reckoned with. Stories of his courage and power had circulated at last year's Sun Dance. Like a badger, Hoka Luta did not back down from a fight. And because his father had once been a powerful medicine man, his enemies feared his spiritual power too.
He was a good leader, and commanded respect much as her own father did. He'd make her a good husband. Winona caught her lower lip to keep from grinning like a besotted bride-to-be. "I cannot believe he chose me," she whispered to herself.