Friday, April 15, 2011

The Long Sun

So I'm terribly behind in the creative department this week..raraahhh! I'm not quite sure how it happened, but yet again I started writing one story for The Chrysalis Experiment, then part of the way through, scrapped it and began another. *sigh* The week fifteen prompt was "And neither have I wings to fly."

I apologize if any of this comes across as stereotypical or offensive; most of the capture narratives from this era are horribly, horribly one-sided, and so I did what I could and tried to make it as unoffensive (but, oh, storytelling-like) as possible.

Enough blabbering! Here you go; TCE story, week fifteen, fairly unedited as of yet. 

The Long Sun

The white man sat quiet between Grass Fire and Little Bison. The three of them stared into the fire, but the white man hung his head. He smelled like dead men and fire water.  Next to his guard he looked very small and weak.  But the day had been a good one, and celebrations would last long into the night, for it was a full moon and we had great victory in battle this day. The fire bounced shadows off the dancers against the mighty trees surrounding us.

Grass Fire and Little Bison were small among the Ni-u-ko’n-ska. Each stood as tall as the head of a horse, but no taller. Yet they were very great warriors. Their eyes shone dark against their skin, all the hair plucked from their faces far back so that the dark, thin crest of hair, edged with porcupine, showed their ferocity. Our people have long been two things; very fierce in battle, and very tall. Since these two were not very tall, they were very, very fierce in battle.
The little white man, much earlier in the day, showed himself vicious in battle and vicious in capture, injuring many of our best men, killing four without fire. It was a great honor to be guarded by Grass Fire and Little Bison, but he did not look to care.  He did not look to care for anything.
“In the morning the waters will rise,”  I said to Grass Fire and Little Bison as I walked over to them. “Too much rain this season. We can unbind him and let him roam; he will not get far until the time of harvest when the waters go home.”
“This man has treachery in his heart, Big Wind, and fire in his blood,” Grass Fire said. “He may bring bad fortune to us all if we loose him.” The silent of the two, Little Bison merely nodded his head once.
“That may come,” I agreed. “But Chief said it must be so. Loose him, but pick a runner to follow him, so he does not come to harm or bring any. He is ours until harvest.”
Little Bison nodded once more, and then stood, signaling he would find a runner.  Grass Fire unbound the little white man’s hands and ankles, and motioned him up and away. The little white man stood, head still hanging, and walked away from the fire into the cool night.

May ?, 1837
I am held prisoner of the barbarians. In my estimation it is approximately half-the-way through the month, some ten or eleven days into my capture by the Osage, called Ni-u-ko’n-ska in their own tongue. I was unbound in the late hours of the first night. The barbarians are unafeared of my escape, for the morn following, the shallow hill on which we are encamped became but an island in the flood waters of the Gasconade River. At all times I am followed by an armed escort.  I have tried to ascertain if I may leave, perhaps by one of the fine wooden canoes, but am met only with harsh stares and contempt, as if they wish to have thought better of my release, and instead split me from gut to throat, as they do during raids. None speak to me.
The encampment is semi permanent by looks, with huts built from arched saplings covered with thick mud, framing a central and large fire pit. All looks new; I gather from the meager agricultural efforts they have been here but for one season. These plots surround the village in every direction in small squares, one of corn, another of squash, and one of carrots and of some vegetable I do not yet know. I can find no liquor. They eat now, in the time of growing rather than harvest, mostly mushroom and the nuts and dried stuffs from the previous season, and then whatever quarry the hunters bring. Their women farm and the men hunt; all tell stories and sing songs by the fire each night. I wager by their tools they usually hunt bison, but there are none within the small and sudden island, so the hunting parties bring back the meats of porcupine, frog, squirrel, rabbit, and sometimes ground pheasants and once, a deer. There is no waste. Save for me.
The tribe numbers 73 members, including the two new babes. I believe it to be the largest tribe of Osage this side of Oklahoma. As a people, they are incredibly tall. Most stand well over six foot, and many of the men taller than seven. They pluck back all the hair from their faces save for a scalp lock, making their eyes quite queer and piercing against their red skin. But they are fools to stay when they have canoes capable of getting them across the waters. The militia will have this hill camp surrounded and will engage these barbarians before they have chance to grasp their spears.

The white man seems to dawdle among us.  Swift Foot tells me he shows great interest in our canoes and weapons. My father the chief spoke with the elders about this. He was told we must wait until the white man decides. What the white man is to decide about, the elders would not say. So for now, Swift Foot follows, and we all watch and wait, and the days lengthen; the trees thicken.
“Big Wind, you must come!”  Grass Fire stood before me, eyes blazing.  “Screaming Hawk has climbed the great trees at the edge of the cliffs above the river’s flood, and has much to tell.”  As soon as he spoke, he ran for the cliffs at the edge of the flood plain.

Screaming Hawk jumped down from the tall cedar.
“What have you seen, Screaming Hawk?” My father held his chest proud.
“There are many tents, many fires, in the distance across the flood plain. Their booming smoke worries the sky.”
“Do they look for battle?”
“Battle, yes, great Chief,” Screaming Hawk said. His large jaw clenched.
“Then we must make ready. They will not attack before the flood waters go home.”  

Nearing Midsummer, 1837
Late last week the barbarians came rushing back into camp with grim faces. I’m learning bits of their words; some dialect of Siouan. They now know a large militia gathers to make war on them, to force them into the Oklahoma lands with all the other Injuns. Many of those tribes are likely to be their enemies, and the land will be much different than this; windswept, fairly treeless, flattened.  I find myself wondering how they will live; what they will hunt, what they will grow, how they will survive when beset on all sides by those who wish them yet again, elsewhere.
I have found the one called Big Wind, my captor, decreed I no longer require an armed shadow. I also believe they know I am learning their language. In the now longer evenings, they break into rhythmic, eerie songs to which some dance. These songs seem to tell the history of their tribe, or perhaps their world. I am not sure; I am too unfamiliar with the tongue yet. A young man and woman pulled me into the dancing two nights ago, placing on my head a band made of fox pelt. I looked a perfect fool, to be sure. But the old men laughed and slapped their thighs with their hands and the children raced around me, naked in the nighttime heat but for their smiles.  

 After I danced, the man who is eldest in the tribe —  it is he who recommended to their king that I should live and not die — pulled me to his log beside the fire and, rasping just as old men of my own race do, began to tell me long, drawn out stories, just as men of my own race do.  Hadn’t the slightest what he was saying, but in time I will. He gestured frequently to the sky, the fire, the earth, the tribesmen and women, and drew symbols and maps in the dirt before me. The old man spoke for many hours, and then directed me to sleep.

I have not had a drink in many days. They do not make any here. Yet their nights are very merry, if heathen.

“You,” I said to the white man, in my own language. He crouched like an animal in the middle of the camp, tending to his heavy shoes. He straightened.
“Yes?”   It was in our tongue as well.
“You speak our tongue now?”
“Yes,” he said again, slowly.  We began circling each other very calmly in the dawn light. The women moved quietly at the edges of the camp, going to the crops to gather what they could for the celebrations. Tomorrow was the longest day of our year.
“You like our canoes,” I told him.
“Yes, I do.” This too, was slow. I cast out my hands so that he would see I bore no arm against him. Still, we circled.
“The big boys and girls are taking trips today in celebration of the long sun to rise tomorrow. You may join them; they will attend to you.”
“I may?” His hands dropped. The man looked me hard, in the face, like an angry bull. But he stopped moving. So did I. “Why?”
I found myself laughing.
“For the long sun we have no enemies. We have only friends, and we celebrate and we praise so that we may have a bountiful harvest. If you speak our tongue, why do you not yet know this?”
“I did,” he said, still slowly, brushing his thin, bright hair back from his forehead. “I just did not think that would include me.” And he began to grin. “So I can row with the children, then?”
“Yes. They will keep you in tow.” And we both laughed. “Go,” I said to him. He moved past me. Then, as I went toward the coals of the fire, I heard him stop.
“My name is Jasper,” he said. “I am honored to make your acquaintance,  Big Wind.”  Jasper  stomped away, laughing.

June 20, 1837
I know of today’s date because I was told tomorrow begins the official celebration of the long sun. I must hurry to write this.
Today I was permitted to go canoeing with the children in the flood plains. There, from the distance, I heard the Howitzers, and the hissing echoes of what I believe to be steam engines, possibly boats they’ve floated down the tributaries into the flood plains of the delta that meets the hills such as ours. The little ones were too busy singing and laughing to know there were war sounds over the water.

I am sure Screaming Hawk has not been up to the lookout trees, for all the Injuns believe tomorrow to be a day of peace and merriment before the furious work of harvesting. It will not be peaceful, nor merry. Nor will there be any harvest, for the army will march on them in the morn, knowing full well the native’s preference for peace on holy days. They will be taken by surprise. They will be slaughtered.
I have not fared ill here, and through the course of the day it spread through the tribe that I have learned their language. All the children ran me around the camp, pointing and naming, once we returned from the water. I am sorry I did not hear them. Many of the adults — mainly the elderly and the women, for the men seem still distrustful,  save for Big Wind — came up to me during the day, bestowing me with gifts of necklaces and small pelts for the celebrations.
I must choose. I must either seize a canoe and return to what remains of my regiment, or I must warn Chief. 73 people, half of which are incapable of battle, against the United States militia. I could tell Big Wind, or perhaps hint to Screaming Hawk that he must climb the lookout tree. I am afeared that should I do that, there will be no telling on what side I shall find myself fighting in the morn.
These are likely to be my last words on the matter, written or otherwise. I will decide before the moon reaches the apex of the sky.

I padded softly behind Jasper as he thread his way toward the flood waters. The night is dark in the thick woods before the flood plains; the short moon barely shines through the clouds. He moves quick; has become lighter of foot, but is still easy to follow. It seems tonight was his deciding of which the elders spoke.
Ahh. The canoes.
“So you will leave?”
Jasper turned. Surprise forked across his face like lightning.
“I—I—” Then he seemed to try and hold himself tall, big like we are. It looked odd, but I would not tell any man that. “Yes. I was going to leave. My regiment. Where I belong.”
“And in the morning?”
“You — you know?” Again, the surprise. He tilted his head at me. “You know they march on you in the morning?”
“No. I meant—” and then found myself hearing what he’d just spoken. “They come on us, over the flood? Tomorrow? But tomorrow is for peace!”
“So you didn’t know,” he muttered. Then, louder, “That’s why they will come tomorrow. They will kill all the men, and many women and children.”
“And you go to fight with them.” I spit in the mud. Would that I had my bow. “You betray our hospitality. You go to fight with them.” I spit again. I must find my father.  I turned.  Gather food, send the women and babes into the caves. Hopefully they weren’t still flooded.
“Noo,oo,” Jasper drawled. “I …  I thought I would return. I intended to return … but … I think now I will not.”
This made me turn back around.
“You think you will not? You will betray your own people, for ours?”  What a strange thing for a man —even a little, bright-haired white man like Jasper — to do.
“It is not betrayal if your own people are in the wrong,” he said, his voice flat like a river rock. “They are wrong. Your people have done nothing. And I know what they will do ... they will murder each of you, unless you move. With fire power. Guns. Cannons.  And if you move, then later they’ll demand you move again, or they’ll murder each of you. It will happen again and again. I’ve been on the push since Montana. I’ve seen it. I know what they will do,” he repeated.
“You know what they’ll do? Do you know enough to be of help?” I tried not to let my anger rule my words.
“Yes. Yes; I think I do. I am sorry. Forgive me, Big Wind. Please bring me to your father and the elders at once.”
“You are forgiven. We will go now. Though we neither have wings, we will run as if to fly.” 
Together we set off at a run. The long sun will rise on an empty village. Where its descendants will be by the time the long sun set, no man, white or red, knows.


  1. Hey Jes ~ a fascinating piece of writing ! It showcases your wealth of historical knowledge and flair for historical fiction . You're obviously comfortable writing in this genre .


  2. Hiya Michelle! You're very kind; thank you!

    ...Although I fear this doesn't showcase much of anything, other than the types of things I was reading prior to reviewing the prompt,lol. I don't think this has much going on that would grab a "mainstream" reader; too many details, not enough plot and character depth. When I truly become comfortable in a genre, I hope that is what will be showcased. *chuckle* But mehhhh, I'm a work in progress!