With the Central Fire roaring hotly from the hardwood diet it was being fed and billowing thick gray smoke from the layer of soaking pine bows thrown atop the blaze, the Utic warriors danced and chanted in a Sacred Circle around it while the elders paced their steps with drums. Appearing ghostly as they lept about in the shadow of the flames and thick of the smoke plumes, Yanisin watched with growing trepidation.
The Shaman had cured Yanisin’s latest affliction, and while doing so he had shared with Yanisin and his family the Dream he had had.
“What I fear for you, young Yanisin, is that should our war with the Topia swine become unavoidable, you may inadvertently consume mortal wounds from battle by coming into contact with either one of our own warriors or that of our enemy.”
Yanisin’s mother gasped. It had been bad enough her son had contracted a venereal disease from one of the young roguish tribesmen, but the prospect of him redirecting another’s injury or death to himself made her frantic with worry.
“My husband may already face death at the hands of the Topia savages, I must protect my son who is not yet old enough to even become a warrior from such a fate!”
“We will keep him with the elders, do not worry,” the Medicine Man had said. “As long as we take cares to protect him, he will not be harmed.”
It was then that the Shaman had been called to channel the ancestral Spirits and had to hastily depart Yanisin’s family hut.
Shivers wracked Yanisin’s body as he listened to the warriors, his father included, start a new chant: a war cry to the ancients for Guidance, Courage, and Power. The pounding of bare feet on earthen ground was thundering, the brown dust mixing with the pale smoke to further cloak the silhouetted figures in full battle regalia.
“Come back inside!” Yanisin’s mother had yelled to him. He would obey for now, but he knew he must do something.
Yanisin had heard at the tribal meeting a few weeks where the Topias accused the Utics of using Black Magic against the Chief’s daughter and threatened war if they did not reverse the curse. The Utic elders had reached a consensus that they would send their Medicine Man to attempt to heal the girl, but this only stirred the Topia people into a more hastened frenzy against the Utics. They said if the girl perished, the Utic people would as well.
Word had gotten to the Utic tribe that the girl, who had become known among the clan as the wretched mutt, had taken a turn for the worse and that the Utic people should prepare for retribution. Not wanting to merely lie in way, the Chief had authorized the previous night’s fire rite that sought the spirits’ guidance and advice.
Sleep came hard that night, and when it did, Yanisin’s dreams were filled with violent deaths he incurred while huddled in the Chief’s hut. He could hear his mother crying, the chants of the Medicine Man to the Healing Spirits, and the sounds of death and destruction encroaching and growing ever closer.
Waking with a start, Yanisin awoke to feel himself drenched in sweat and found his limbs shaky. For a moment he feared that he had not escaped the terrors he had been dreaming because even as he tried to catch his rapid breath he heard shouts and pounding outside of his hut. But it was not battle; it was a new, shrill intonation.
As he sat up from his bed roll, he saw the outline of his mother’s face against the Central Fire that was still roaring and belching smoke. Hearing her son stirring, she turned to face him. She did not need to speak to tell her son what was going on, for he understood their words in the Old Language well enough. The Ancestral Spirits had spoken: The Utics would go to war.
With only about an hour and a half until first light, the warriors took cue from the mellowing Central Fire and retreated to their own quarters for a rest before they would formally declare the decision to the tribe.
His father and mother engrossed in conversation over the last few hours developments, Yanisin left the hut to relieve himself. To his ears it still sounded as if the warriors were about the fire pounding their feet, but it was only the beating of his anxious heart reverberating through his ears. So loud was this thumping that Yanisin never heard Shalani walking up behind him.
“Yanisin!” he said sharply. Yanisin jumped with fright and turned to see Shalani, still wearing his war bonnet, face paint. His eyes were red with irritation from all the smoky soot he had been dancing in, making him seem animalistic.
“Be careful my young friend. The Utic tribe is at war. There’s no telling who may want to take you from your people and use your…ability to save their own life.” Shalani cocked his head upwards and laughed, reminding Yanisin of a wolf howling at the moon.
After calming himself, Shalani remained uncomfortably close to Yanisin.
“You could be a great ally to your people, instead of just a burden, if you were brave,” he said, turning on his heel.
“You could be more than just a sick little boy.”
Yanisin shivered again, and the hair on his neck tingled as if a cold tempest had just blown across it. Mind racing, and his feet fumbling, Yanisin stumbled his way out of the settled village area with its dirt paths and cleared forest.
Standing next to a thin patch of scrub pines, Yanisin’s mind continued to race while he tried to relax himself enough to relieve himself.
What did Shalani mean? What can I do? How can I help my people?
Noticing that he could urinate without pain for the first time since he had taken ill with someone else’s indiscretion, answers came rushing into Yanisin’s head. He remembered what the Medicine Man had warned him and his mother against. He knew what Shalani wanted him to do…what he wanted him to be.
“Warrior medicine” Yanisin said aloud.
“ When you are in doubt, be still, and wait; when doubt no longer exists for you, then go forward with courage. So long as mists envelop you, be still; be still until the sunlight pours through and dispels the mists—as it surely will. Then act with courage. ”
— Chief White Eagle
As the morning sun began to rise and reflect against the night’s dew, the Central Fire was again stoked up to a frenzied size, this time burning cleanly. The tribe’s largest drum was carried out by two of the warriors and into the Central Circle that surrounded the fire and served as the heart of the village and the communal meeting space. Next the Chief was helped out of his hut and set in front of the drum.
As he began solemnly calling the people to conference, chanting in beat with the bass he was pounding, Yanisin watched from the bushes. His limbs becoming weak again. This time because, over the ruckus of the Chief’s call to meet and the bustle of the tribes people to obey, he heard his mother frantically calling out his name.
Hidden on the outskirts of the village, Yanisin could hear his mother’s frenzied pleadings with the Chief to call the young men to go look for her son.
“Later,” the Chief had told her. He had to strain to hear the Chief’s deep, tired voice.
After the Chief relayed the news that most had heard from morning scuttlebutt or listening to the previous night’s proceedings, plans of action were proposed.
The young men all wished to re-adorn themselves in their war regalia and immediately march on the Topia swines—how dare they accuse the Utic people of black magic! The elder people wanted to send a messenger to the Topia Chief to tell him the Utics’ intentions if they did not cease the threats and curses they were calling down.
Just then Yanisin’s mother broke into the conversations, speaking loudly over the congregants. “The swine took my Yanisin! He’s nowhere to be found!”
The people were sent into a flurry of more heated discussions; this revelation sparking new recommendations of action. The Chief attempted to settle their spirits, but they would not be tamed. He called the people to order and told them they would have a mid-day meeting. If Yanisin was still not around options would be further discussed. At that time he told a few of the young Braves to go and search for signs of the boy but to be back by the time of High Sun.
Yanisin stood quaking in his footprints, unsure what to do. His was a people of Honor and Courage, and having to admit that he had wanted to flee from them so that he would not be asked to take on the wounds of the warriors. He was just a little boy! He had heard his mother utter that phrase in defense of his weaknesses and susceptibilities more times than he cared to recollect. Yet remembering the way his mother always allied herself with him somehow made Yanisin sure that his mother would understand why he had to go away. He only wished that he dared tell her why he was running away first.
He watched as a handful of Braves began to flock into the woodline, each carrying a staff pointed with a large flint spearhead and adorned with Eagle feathers. The more experienced ones had finger bones strung from the leather handgrip as well, indicating how many enemies he had killed in combat. They were courageous, honorable, strong young men. And Yanisin was not like them. Would never be.
Beating his feet to escape the rush of disgrace he felt welling inside of him, Yanisin ran as fast as he shaky legs could take him. His vision blurry with tears, Yanisin never saw the raised root of an ancient Conifer and tripped, falling with a loud thump on a bed of dry twigs and leaves. By the time he had picked himself up and wiped the fallen drops from his eyes, he had been grabbed into a tight bear hug by Shalani.
“Got you, you little coward!” he hissed.
Yanisin was instantly twice as tired, winded, and weak as he had been before; he had taken on Shalani’s fatigue.
“Ah,” Shalani whispered. “I feel rejuvenated. You will do wonders for me in battle!”
Yanisin’s body wracked with fear and he felt a surge of power course through his body. Without thought he stomped his foot as hard onto Shalani’s as he could. Shalani’s grip did not drop, but it did loosen, and Yanisin buried his teeth into his Shalani’s forearm. Finally Yanisin was free from the strong hold he had been held in, and he raced, ran with all his might, away from Shalani, who was shouting to his fellow Warrior Braves and pointing out Yanisin’s path.
“Follow him! Catch the coward!”
Night was creeping in. The Braves had long reported back to the Tribe about Yanisin’s desertion, his chicken-hearted escape. Every time he thought of what his people must be thinking, what they must have said, what disgrace his parents must be feeling, he was taken to the edge of sobs. He forced himself to stave off the tears, and instead continue walking in the unfamiliar forest, for he realized he could never face returning home.
When the moon was about halfway up the sky, Yanisin became aware of the fact that his steps were stuttering around crazily. He lay down on a bed of mosses to rest, and thought he heard the distant beating of drums.
I’m just tired, he told himself, but the more Yanisin listened from his nature’s bed, he realized he was not hearing things. For every so often the vague, dull thuds were interjected with a high ululation. It was familiar, but different still.
Rousing himself from his soft earthen cradle, Yanisin let his ears guide him until he could hear the intonations more clearly. They were not of his people, he could tell. The words were unusual, but similar yet.
A soft orange flickering eventually came began to dance between bushes and tree limbs as Yanisin grew closer to the source of the sounds. The vocalizations were growing louder still, and cautiously Yanisin drew closer and closer to the edge of the camp, until just a single gaggle of small leafy trees hid him. Around a large central fire pit danced at least twice as many battle dressed warriors as the Utics had. There body adornments were strange, and as the men yipped and pranced around the fire, loud clacking emanated from each’s body. Straining to see, Yanisin eventually saw that the most elaborately festooned Braves wore a chestplate made of human jaws, and it was the bumping together of bone against bone that was making such strange noises as they danced.
Yanisin’s legs again grew weak and he settled into a crouch. He watched as the Topia warriors, the swine as his people called them made practice thrusts into the ground with their hefty spears and then let out elated cries as they pried the tips loose and flung dust into the air.
Shivering, Yanisin realized his people wouldn’t stand a chance against such a formidable enemy. He lowered himself further, as the fighters broke away in near perfect sequence to clear the lane for four elders who were carrying a small girl on a brightly woven blanket stretched between a neatly hewn stretcher frame.
Soft, mournful song broke out as the women of the tribe stepped forward and slowly swayed about the sick young woman who had just been set on the ground. This must be the mongrel, the Chief’s daughter alleged to be born of a white mother that started the whole fiasco.
As the vigorous orange flame flicked across her frail body, Yanisin could not see the vile spawn of a whore and dog of a father his people had painted her to be. Although her face looked ghostly, pale from her illness, the backs of her hands were a soft, lovely almond that was lighter than what any of the other tribes people of any clan had. It was different, but familiar still. Her hair, damp with feverous sweats, held tightly wound curls, something that was strange among the People here, no matter what tribe they were from. Even so it was yet the recognizable raven black that everyone of the Land had.
Yanisin strained his neck forward to gaze upon the girl more closely. The women dancers obscured his view continually as they performed some sort of ritual on the girl. But when her dainty, rigid body was again viewable, Yanisin felt a tingle in his stomach. She was pretty. Her cheekbones were soft, her countenance was peaceful. She wore skins that were festooned with bright beads in patterns that Yanisin didn’t recognize, but they played against her skin tone well. The glow of the fire from behind her made her seem powerful, like a Spirit from a dream. And, Yanisin decided, she was powerful. She could bring about war and death by taking ill. The whole time Yanisin watched her, throughout the whole performance, the slight girl never moved.
Finally, when the drums and high-pitched chants died, the four elders again went to the poles of the stretcher and lifted the girl up, taking her inside the largest of the shelters. Yanisin slipped himself into more careful cover as the young Braves again took to the earthen circle to begin another dance.
Yanisin had not slept at all the whole night; he did not even feel tired. He had watched the actions of the Topia tribe through the wee hours of the evening, working his way through the wood line, closer and closer to the hut that the sick girl had been carried from and then back into again. In the few hours between last dark and first light where the activities of the dancers had ceased and the rest of the clan dispersed for sleep, or at least rest, Yanisin sought Guidance like he had never sought it before, but none came. At least not in the way his People always described Guidance from the Ancients or a Spirit has coming to them.
All the while, he watched people go in and out of the hut that held the sick Chief’s daughter. He memorized through different physical and dress attributes everyone that frequented the hut. There was Chief, with his long gray side braids, Healer with his animal skin pouch of herbs and medicines, and two middle-aged men Yanisin simply called “Cat Man” because of the stalking way he walked, and “Feather Belt” for obvious reasons. He wasn’t sure what business these last two people had with the Chief or his daughter. Perhaps they were older brothers or cousins, even uncles. He doubted very much that either were the girl’s husband, she appeared only as old as Yanisin, still a few years away from being of marrying age by Utic law.
It seemed that the girl was never left alone; one of the men was always present with her and would come when another had other affairs to tend to. Yanisin’s constant level of anxiety grew into panic when Healer trudged slowly from the hut, his head bowed. He shook his head regrettably as he conversed with Feather Belt in a voice Yanisin could not pick up. Yanisin was afraid that the cute, fair-skinned girl had perished. Her death would mean war and he knew from the previous night that war would mean the massacre of the Utic tribe.
Choking back a sob, Yanisin snapped himself out of the woe he felt for the impending demise of his people and took watch of the hut again. He saw Feather Belt exit the tent hastily, but hadn’t noticed any one come to take watch over the girl in his absence. Perhaps he had missed the exchange during his internal battle, but perhaps not. Perhaps she was there by herself.
Shalani’s words reverberated to the beat of Yanisin’s beating heart as he stealthily made his way out of the tree line, to the edge of the encampment, and to the back of the girl’s and her father’s hut.
Coward! Catch the coward! Coward! Coward! Coward!
Organically Yanisin made his way around the side of the hut, duck-walking. His thighs burned from this crouching-walk, but imagining the stinging names his people were calling him kept him going.
Traitor! Timid Mouse! Frightened Worm!
Without so much as a hesitation, Yanisin slithered his way through the skin door covering and into the Chief’s hut. He quickly stilled the hide’s flapping, and was instantly transfixed on the small girl laying on a luxurious bedroll before him. His stomach again tingled and churned with inner sunshine as he looked upon her flawless face. Her eyes were closed, her skin clammy, and her body rigid. The hands that had been such an intriguing almond in the firelight the night before were clenched into tight fists and bright red.
There was no one else inside the hut, but many furs and skins were strewn about the ground. Yanisin walked up to the edge of the girl’s bed roll and, kneeling on the thick hairy hide laid beside her, Yanisin tentatively cupped the girl’s petite check with his trembling hand. Her skin was hot but the moisture seeping from her pores was cold. Even so, Yanisin focused more on how soft her cheek was, and with a deep breath, put his other hand on the girl’s other cheek.
Softly, he spoke.
“You have the power to create wars, small one. But you also have the ability to keep peace.”
Yanisin’s abdomen twitched, then he felt a pressure growing inside of him. His throat constricted and he had trouble catching breath, and so he simply mouthed the rest of his thoughts to his small patient.
“You’re just a little girl,” He said silently, as a tear began to run down his cheek. “You don’t deserve to die.”
Yanisin struggled to readjust his position so that he could sit, yet keep his hands on the girl’s face. He was getting weaker and couldn’t hold his body up.
“You haven’t even felt love yet,” Yanisin said, lying down on the fur next to the girl. He lay on his side, eyes transfixed on her delicate profile. He supported his own head, and went from holding the girl’s cheek to caressing her hair with the other.
“You must get well so that our People may live, and so that your children can grow up knowing peace.” His words were raspy and drawn out. The Life that gave Yanisin words was leaving him.
It was just then that Feather Belt, Healer, and the Chief all rushed into the hut. They began yelling at Yanisin; Feather Belt grabbed him, Healer pushed him out of the way to get to the girl, and the Chief stood at the entrance of the hut wiping at the tears in his eyes, unsure of what to make of the scene.
“Who are you? What are you doing to Abequa?” Feather Belt asked.
Yanisin’s fists were clenched in agony, his eyes rolled about his head as he was jostled about roughly.
“What?” Feather Belt demanded after seeing Yanisin’s lips move but hearing no sound.
Yanisin’s lips began to move again and so Feather Belt knelt down to listen.
“You must get well so that our People may live, and so that your children can grow up knowing peace.”
“My Chief! Her fever is lower,” the Healer said, gesturing for the girl’s father to come closer. He grasped his daughter’s unclenched hand and rubbed it against his own rough cheek.
“Please come back to us, Abequa, please” he blubbered.
“What are you talking about, you little Utic maggot? Answer me!” Feather Belt slapped Yanisin’s cheek harshly, the noise echoing through the hut. But he did not respond.
“Shut up you fool!” the Medicine Man shouted to Feather Belt. The hut was instantly silent.
“Papa?” Abequa’s voice was dry and rough, her lips barely moving as she spoke. But once words returned, her eyes flickered and flapped like butterfly wings until she was able to keep them open and focus her gaze.
When Yanisin was given back to Mother Earth, he was placed at the boundary line between the Utic and the Topia lands. Both Chiefs had agreed that this was the only suitable place for such a heroic little boy to be buried, for his courage and sacrifice transcended either clan singly, and had prevented unnecessary casualties on both sides as well as giving the Topia Chief his daughter back.
The Healer’s dream was fit with Yanisin’s final words and woven into a tale of uncommon valor and sacrifice that was transported up and down the trade routes by the merchants that traded goods from clan to clan.
Although no one seemed to get all the accurate details of the story just right, they nevertheless all included a final prologue to the story that stated once Abequa was well enough to walk a distance, she insisted that she meet the parents of the boy who had healed her. Her father the Chief remained overly concerned for his daughter’s well being after having come so close to losing her.
“When you are a little stronger,” he would tell her every time she asked.
Eventually Abequa grew restless and set out one evening after her father had gone to sleep. She was determined to express her gratitude for Yanisin’s sacrifice to his parents, and to visit and lay flowers at his grave.
In secret she had gathered a bouquet of wild Tulips and Daisies, and had woven a tidy little sheath for the stems, and as she made her way to the edge of the Topia land, she began to look for the bowls of burned incense that should have been left near Yanisin’s burial place. Along the way, she picked more wild flowers she passed and added them to the wrap she had made from tall grasses. Adequa hadn’t seen any of the offering bowls, but scurried anxiously towards a flower she had never seen in the forests before.
It was an odd looking flower; it had five long, narrow pedals that were an almond color and arranged not evenly around the center but rather with the petals gathered toward one end. Like a hand. It was then that she noticed a collection of small little clay bowls, partly hidden by the falling leaf litter. She realized she was know kneeling above Yanisin’s grave. Crying, she set the flowers down in front of her and patted the earth in front of her. She spoke words to Yanisin that he would not have understood; words which were familiar, but different still.
After her journey, Abequa took her clan’s Medicine Man to look at the strange flower that grew from the earth that housed Yanisin. After studying it, the Healer carefully dug and cut away a part of the root section to take back with him. He hoped to grow another of this plant, for he had likewise never seen anything like it.
In time, the Healer’s plant grew and started to blossom. Every evening the hand-shaped flower would close up, as if making a fist, and every morning it would open, into a gentle cupping shape. The root became prized for its healing properties, and, like the tale of Yanisin’s healing hands, Yani, the plant of peace and healing, was spread from People to People all along the trade route.