In the tradition of the historical fiction of Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear, USA Today bestselling author Roseanne Bittner tells a story of Native America sure to capture you and carry you on an adventure of love and hate, good and evil, life and death in Mystic Dancers, first in a series.
In 1833, Star Dancer, a Sichangu (Brulé Sioux), is promised in marriage to Stalking Wolf, an Oglala warrior whom she has never met. What begins as a loveless union develops into a moving story of a man and a woman led by powers beyond their control. Dreams, visions, and mystic experiences fill this provocative love story that launches a saga about the Lakota and their first meeting with the White Man.
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About the Author
Published since 1983, Rosanne Bittner is known nationally and internationally, with 58 titles and several million books in print. Rosanne writes historical romance and sagas involving real American history, especially stories about America’s Old West and its Native Americans.
Rosanne has won numerous writing awards and has been inducted into romance magazine Affaire de Couer’s Hall of Fame for longevity and endurance in the market and for overall appeal to readers. She has received numerous favorable reviews in Publishers Weekly, and was a finalist for Women Writing the West’s prestigious WILLA award for her novel Where Heaven Begins, set in the Yukon during the gold rush. In 2012 romance magazine Romantic Times named Rosanne a "Legend of Historical Romance."
Rosanne is a member of the Nebraska and Montana State Historical Societies, Women Writing the West, Western Writers of America and Romance Writers of America (Mid-Michigan Chapter). Rosanne and her husband Larry live in southwest Michigan and have two sons and three grandsons. Locally Rosanne is a Board member of the Coloma Lioness Club, a charity organization.
You can learn more about Rosanne and her latest publications through her web site, her blog, and by visiting her on Facebook and Twitter. Rosanne also contributes to numerous writers’ sites, such as Goodreads, and a number of blog sites.
Read an Excerpt
By Rosanne Bittner
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1999 Rosanne Bittner
All rights reserved.
BY WHITE MAN'S terms, the year this story begins is 1832, during the Moon When The Ponies Shed ... in May.
* * *
"Take pity on me. Show me the way, and protect my people."
A naked Night Hunter trembled from four days of hunger and thirst. The red heat of the afternoon sun penetrated his skin, but he ignored the pain, celebrating his suffering. Four days ago, his uncle, Runs With The Deer, had warned that he must come to the Big Waters of the sacred Black Hills to seek a vision.
"A wolf spoke to me about you in a dream, my nephew. It told me you must go to the Big Waters. There the wolf will come to you and tell you of a woman you must seek, for without her, you cannot become a true leader of the People. This woman has power, and she will help you become a leader of the Oglala."
As a member of Naca Ominicia, men who represented the entire Lakota Nation, Runs With The Deer held a position of great importance and his dreams held great significance. Thus Night Hunter now sat alone on a high ledge that overlooked the Big Waters, waiting faithfully for the wolf to come to him.
As he listened to the gentle flow of the river at the bottom of the canyon, he breathed deeply of the sweet, cool air that hung rich with the scent of wet pine needles. These sacred hills, nearly black with thick groves of deep green pine trees, harbored powerful spirits. Other Oglala men, and sometimes women, came to this hallowed place to seek visions.
Again, Night Hunter drew on his sacred pipe, letting the sweet smoke fill his lungs. He held the pipe aloft and sang to the God of the Sky.
"Take pity on me," he repeated. "Show me the way, and protect my people."
Despite his powerful build, weakness consumed him, and raising his prayer pipe took great effort. With shaking hands and arms, he offered the sacred pipe to the four corners of the earth. At each point, east, west, north, south, he again sang his prayer, his voice husky from a dry throat. He lowered the pipe toward the ground, praying to sacred Mother Earth. Here he had experienced his first vision at fourteen summers of age. In that vision, the moon and the sun moved side by side, and then the moon passed over the sun, blocking its light. After that, Moon Painter, the Oglala priest, told him that he should be called Night Hunter.
He had lived up to his name, hunting at night, his vision sharper in the night's darkness than others of his clan. Unafraid of the spirits of the darkness, he once killed a buffalo after dark, an accomplishment that brought him great praise and adoration from his fellow warriors, even from the wise old men of the Big Belly Society. For the next ten summers he pursued his quest to be a leader among the Oglala, a Wicasa, Shirt Wearer. From there he hoped to become Wicasa Itacan, one who ruled the Shirt Wearers.
Night Hunter swayed, then fell. The gravelly earth cut into his elbow and forearm, and he grimaced as he managed to ease himself back up. He crossed his legs and laid his pipe across his knees. Taking a deep breath for courage, he slid his hunting knife from its sheath and deftly sliced into his left arm, then stretched it out so that the blood from the wound dripped onto Mother Earth. He must show the Great Spirit his willingness to sacrifice even his own blood for the gift of a vision.
Could the woman of whom the wolf spoke be Fall Leaf Woman? He had enjoyed her slippery depths many times since the day two summers past when she caught him alone and boldly offered herself to him. She had dropped her tunic, exposing her womanly mysteries, enticing him with licks and caresses that caused him to fall under her power. Since then, she had continued to brazenly offer herself to him without reservation.
Fall Leaf Woman truly seemed to care for him, but he did not feel deeply for her. Lately she annoyed him with her constant pestering, and it seemed that wherever he turned, she hovered nearby. Surely such a woman could not be his intended. She held no special powers. Whomever he chose to call first wife must be a woman of great honor, one who would cost many horses, and who would not offer herself physically without a great price. Fall Leaf Woman did not hold such honor; he could have her for no price at all.
As the sun lowered, the western trees and hills cast a shadow over Night Hunter. His body shook with a chill, and he nearly passed out again. Thunder boomed overhead, rousing him from his stupor. The earth began to shake, and a powerful dizziness overcame him as the thundering noise grew so loud it hurt his ears. Then he saw it, a herd of buffalo stampeding toward him. Their pounding hooves shook the ground, yet they did not touch the ground at all. They charged out of the sky, so many and so fast that he could never run fast enough to avoid being trampled.
He sucked in his breath and waited for whatever must come, and just before reaching him, the herd suddenly parted and thundered around him on either side. Wild, black eyes glared at him as shaggy heads darted past. He heard their snorting, felt the hot breath from their nostrils, yet their feet stirred no dust once they touched the canyon ledge where he sat.
The herd suddenly vanished, and silence reigned once again. Then, from where the great beasts had charged out of the sky, a bright white cloud approached, swirling and eddying as it floated closer. Finally it came to rest on a nearby outcropping of rocks at the edge of the great chasm before him. Gradually the cloud changed shape, forming a white buffalo.
Then a black cloud, outlined in yellow, swirled and tumbled toward the white buffalo, settling beside it. The black cloud slowly took the shape of a wolf with yellow eyes. The menacing beast began to prowl around the white buffalo as though stalking it. When the wolf seemed ready to pounce, the head of the buffalo quickly transformed into a woman's face, her long hair white and shaggy like the buffalo's mane. She looked down at the wolf, and the animal backed away. Then one leg of the white buffalo turned into a slender arm that reached out and touched the wolf's head.
"One day you, Night Hunter, will be my husband," she told the wolf. "But then your name will be Stalking Wolf."
She withdrew her hand and became a buffalo again. She ambled away, and the wolf turned to Night Hunter, its yellow eyes filled with wisdom. "She is the woman you must marry," the beast told Night Hunter. "She is blessed by the white buffalo. When you find her, do not let her go."
The wolf turned and chased after the white buffalo. Night Hunter watched until both figures again became only clouds, which soon disappeared into the red sunset. Then a blinding flash of light exploded across the sky, causing Night Hunter to cup his hands over his eyes. A great warmth enveloped him, and when he dared look again, he saw a man standing before him with outstretched arms and a hairy face. He wore a simple robe, his long hair and the hair on his face lighter in color than Night Hunter's hair.
The man's gentle, comforting gaze held Night Hunter in rapture for several minutes, but the vision did not speak. As Night Hunter watched, the man spun around and his robes fell away, until he wore only an apron about his loins. His hair and skin turned darker and his outstretched arms bulged with more muscles, until he grew into a powerful giant of a man with feathers sprouting from his arms and back. Finally, the feathers covered his entire body, and his head transformed into the head of an eagle. He opened his beak and spoke.
"The man who appeared first represents peace, as will the woman you take as a wife. I am the Feathered One, and I represent the power of the Oglala, as do you, Stalking Wolf. Go and seek the woman of peace among the people of the Burnt Thighs. Some call her the White Buffalo Woman."
The Being soared away, disappearing into the clouds. Night Hunter stared after it in awe and confusion. A terrible dizziness washed over him then and he fell, hitting his head on a rock. He breathed deeply of the sweet smell of pine before lapsing into unconsciousness.
* * *
The next morning, Runs With The Deer and other Big Bellies came to check on Night Hunter. They found him lying near death, his head and left arm encrusted by dried blood.
"Take him, quickly," Runs With The Deer ordered. "Moon Painter must pray over him, and his mother and sister can tend to him."
The others managed to maneuver Night Hunter onto a travois tied to a horse. They hauled his limp body back to camp, but Runs With The Deer remained behind, staring out over the valley below.
"What have you seen?" he muttered, wishing his nephew could speak. He noticed a feather on the ground, and he stooped to pick it up, but a sudden wind whisked it away. It floated out over the valley below and disappeared.
Rutting Time op the Buffalo MoonCHAPTER 2
STAR DANCER LISTENED attentively to the Oglala messenger called Runs With The Deer. Like her father, the visitor belonged to the Lakota Big Belly Society. More important, he belonged to Naca Ominicia, which represented the entire Oglala tribe before the Wicasa Yatapickas, the four great leaders of the Lakota Nation.
A mixture of burning curiosity and undeniable fear coursed through Star Dancer, for upon arrival, Runs With The Deer had specifically asked to speak with her father, Looking Horse. For a Naca to come so far, the reason must be of utmost importance; and Runs With The Deer had looked at her strangely when he first entered her mother's tepee.
Star Dancer sat unmoving in the shadows with her grandmother, Walks Slowly, keeping quiet while Looking Horse entertained his important guest. She noticed her mother, Tall Woman, seemed nervous as she served the men a meal of venison and wild onions; but she saw excitement and pride in her father's dark eyes. He obviously enjoyed playing host to such an esteemed visitor from the Oglala tribe.
"He must be here to talk about you," old Grandmother whispered.
Star Dancer hoped her Uncheedah was only teasing, as the old woman often did, but somewhere deep inside, she knew Walks Slowly might be right. Runs With The Deer continued to glance at her repeatedly. His dark eyes showed deep wisdom and awareness. His mostly white hair hung in long braids over his bare chest, and sweat glistened on his dark skin. Star Dancer thought it fitting that he belonged to the Big Bellies, for his belly did indeed hang over his lap. Her father, however, retained a fine build in spite of his advanced years, and Tall Woman often bragged about her husband's still-handsome appearance.
Following their meal, Looking Horse offered Runs With The Deer a pair of beautifully quilled moccasins, for custom required a host to present his honored visitor with a gift. Runs With The Deer graciously accepted the moccasins, and he in turn offered Looking Horse a brightly quilled, wide, leather banner, as a sign of friendship and good will.
"This is a fine gift," Looking Horse told his guest. "I will drape it over the neck of my finest war pony when I ride to the next Lakota Council gathering on Medicine Mountain." He carefully laid the banner across his lap and shared a pipe with Runs With The Deer. Star Dancer waited impatiently to discover the reason for Runs With The Deer's visit, and finally her father asked the burning question.
"And why does a great Oglala leader such as yourself honor the Sichangu and my own dwelling with his presence?" Looking Horse asked cautiously. Star Dancer knew that even though her father held a high position among his people, Runs With The Deer enjoyed much greater importance among the entire Lakota Nation. Thus Looking Horse chose his words carefully, in order not to offend the Oglala man.
Runs With The Deer thought for a moment, obviously weighing his words before he spoke. Then he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
"I come to the village of the Burnt Thighs to speak about my nephew," he answered, using the Siouan dialect that most tribes understood. "He is called Stalking Wolf, because of a vision that came to him one moon past at the Big Waters of Paha-Sapa. He suffered many days with no food or water, and he cut his arm in an offering of blood to Wakan-Tanka."
Runs With The Deer stopped and frowned, thinking for a moment before continuing. "My nephew has suffered two vision quests, and has also twice sacrificed his blood in the Sun Dance, once at seventeen summers, and again at twenty summers. Both times, he braved the pain of the skewers piercing his breasts and the calves of his legs. He did not cry out, and he danced longer than the others, dragging the leg weights and straining against the skewers at his breasts until they tore away. Even then, he made no sound, for he takes honor in suffering for the prosperity of the Lakota Nation."
Looking Horse frowned with intense interest. "Your nephew must be a very brave and honored man."
"Ayee! At twenty-four summers, he is already a Shirt Wearer. Crow and Pawnee scalps decorate his lance, and many of their horses are now in his possession. He cleanses himself in the sweat lodge often, and he prays constantly to be blessed with the powers of the sky spirits and the animal spirits. He rides against the enemy with no fear, and he has killed many buffalo with arrow and lance. I come here on his behalf."
Star Dancer glanced at her grandmother, thinking what great wisdom the hundreds of wrinkles around her eyes represented. Still sharp-minded, her mother's mother listened closely to the visitor's words, her dark eyes sparkling with curiosity. Walks Slowly loved to gossip, and a visit from a mysterious warrior of another tribe promised to provide much for her to chatter about.
"And what is it your nephew would ask of me?" Looking Horse inquired. "Why did he not come to me himself?"
"He chose not to come because he believes that here among your people there is someone so special that he must not look upon her face until he has your permission. He has gone to hunt buffalo. His father was killed many seasons past by the humpbacked bear and Stalking Wolf must provide for his mother and sister. When we all meet for the annual Council on Medicine Mountain, he will then present his petition before you."
A refreshing rush of air swept through the dwelling, and Star Dancer could smell Runs With The Deer's perspiration. She longed to go out and wade into a nearby stream to cool herself, but she dared not leave.
"And what is Stalking Wolf's petition?" Looking Horse asked.
Runs With The Deer sat a little straighter. "It is said among the Oglala that a young Sichangu girl has seen the white buffalo, and that she carries the hairs of the buffalo in her medicine bag. Because of this, she is considered holy. It is said that this girl is your own daughter."
"It is true that at ten summers my daughter saw and touched the white buffalo," Looking Horse answered.
Star Dancer's throat constricted with a sudden rush of dread when the stranger nodded. Runs With The Deer again turned to her with a critical gaze, and she looked down, feeling embarrassed and afraid. She took pride in the fact that she'd seen and touched the sacred white buffalo, an experience that brought honor and attention to her father. Even as a young girl, she had held little doubt that Looking Horse had always wished for a son. Tall Woman had never conceived again after giving birth to her, and that had brought much grief to her mother's heart. When Star Dancer had told her parents about seeing the sacred white buffalo, presenting to them a fistful of hairs she'd pulled from its mane, Looking Horse had shown a new pride in his daughter, and that had helped soothe Tall Woman's disappointment at not being able to give him a son. Star Dancer's value as a holy woman had made her just as important as a son to him.
After her experience with the white buffalo, the tribal priest had declared Star Dancer destined for great things and high responsibilities. Until now, that destiny had always seemed far away, part of a remote future that would never come to be; but suddenly it had come upon her, in the form of old Runs With The Deer.
"Stalking Wolf believes that a vision he experienced one moon past has meaning that involves your daughter," Runs With The Deer continued. "So says our holy priest, Moon Painter."
As he explained the vision, Star Dancer knew it indeed held great meaning, for no warrior shared such a personal event with utter strangers unless it was vital to the future of the Lakota Nation.
"The black wolf then spoke," Runs With The Deer finished, "telling Stalking Wolf, 'She is the woman you must marry. She is blessed by the white buffalo.'" Again, Runs With The Deer paused and looked at Star Dancer. "The vision is a sign that Stalking Wolf can marry only a woman who shares the spirit of the white buffalo."
Excerpted from Mystic Dreamers by Rosanne Bittner. Copyright © 1999 Rosanne Bittner. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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