Legends of the Swamps is a series of books I've started with the onslaught of abandoned writing that I did this month. The best thing I've ever written (fiction) came from it... and the first title of the series is called:
Eagle Hawk, Flaming Bird and Summer
Anyone interested in reading excerpts (almost all the way to Chapter 3) can do so in the notes of my profile on Facebook.
I finished it tonight with almost 72,000 words, and after editing, there will probably be over that many.
I'm pleased with it, so I suppose that's what counts right now... never finished writing a fiction book before so this is quite an accomplishment for me.
Thanks for being patient with me and one more piece of news.... in December my goal is to finish the prequel to this novel (also fiction)... so keep gathering the recipes for the Cookbook. I've already sold the first one, to my husband's brother in law.... he likes my cooking!
Use the following link to order...Gypsy Phoenix...or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a signed Author's Copy
Okay... since you can't see my FB page without "friending" me... LOL ain't that a pain?....
I'm putting HERE what I've posted THERE for ya'll to see. Some of the first three chapters of Legends of the Swamps: Uncle Frank's Epic Tale. (unedited version)
Introduction The Healer
Hidden by the blackness of the swamp and situated in the middle of countless cypress trees, the shack became more visible in the pale moonlight that broke through the mossy branches. At first glance, it looked like it teetered to one side – from a distance. The closer they drew to it, the more it appeared to straighten and level out. The baby whimpered in its mother’s arms. It only whimpered because it was too weak to cry. The young mother clung tightly to her ailing infant son, hot, angry tears streaming down her face. This night is too hot, she thought to herself. I shouldn’t have my baby out here in this heat, not with him sick. But I don’t have a choice. He’s got to have some help. I have to take him to Mama Walker. Mama will know what to do. The slender pirogue cut through the water, barely skirting around the cypress knees growing in the shallow water next to the raised, stilted hut that was their aim. The scant seconds it took them to glide up to the dock running alongside the shack felt like hours. Their journey was finally coming to an end and the man rowing the pirogue stood and took hold of the dock. He was much stronger than he appeared to be. His arms were nothing more than tidbits of sinew pulled over bones, but he pulled the small boat around to accommodate the young mother so she could step out of it easily. When she reached the first step with both feet, she turned and for one instant saw what she thought (at first) were only shadows moving noiselessly through the water beside the pirogue. As soon as she stepped fully onto the dock, her few raggedy bags were thrown up by her guide, and then the pirogue glided its way back in the direction it had come from. Summer watched in silence until the shadows swallowed the lantern at the front of the small bayou skiff. Her memories flooded every sense, and confirmation of her decision became clear as spring water. Mama, I’m home, she thought. She wiped her face clear of all moisture with her free hand before walking any farther. Her eyes were now the only sign that any emotion had leaked from her face – they were reddened and a tiny bit swollen – but she resolved to be strong. She would heed every instruction given by the Healer. At that very moment, she was simply thankful that her child had slipped into at least a partial slumber – she knew he would be awake again soon, but for that one moment of peace, she was thankful. Before the young woman had fully approached the door of the hut, it creaked open and light flooded the aged timbered walkway. She felt a pang of remembrance and then encouragement swept over her as she looked up and saw the oversized cross hanging on the far wall. I’m really home, she thought again. A voice spoke as she turned to shut the door. “Sit at th’ table wit’ th’ bebe.” The voice was ancient and rugged but clearly feminine. “Yes ma’am.” A hard silence fell upon the night. It seemed as if even the bullfrogs and cicadas hushed in respect of the events that were taking place inside the shanty. The girl sniffled but did not speak as she wiped tears from her face and gently rocked her son in her arms. “Mama, can you help him?” The elderly black lady said nothing. Her back was to the door and the table where she had instructed the girl to sit with the baby. She continued reaching for powders and herbs, placing some back on the shelves and pulling down others. The oils and perfumes, the assorted dried animal parts, the grasses and filtered liquids were all at her disposal, having been gathered in advance and kept in supply for just such a time. When at last the old black lady known as Mama Walker had all she would need, she turned toward the tall olive-skinned young woman and motioned for her to step closer. “Daughter.” It was only one word, but Summer knew what it meant. She rose and walked toward the elderly woman. “Mama Walker, please help him,” she begged. “Hush now. Give the bebe this much to drink in a skin pouch along wit’ some goat’s milk – yuh’ll have to mix it in a cup first, chile,” Mama Walker indicated the amount with two fingers held about half an inch apart. “but his little belly will fix itsef’ in no time a’tall,” she instructed, and then added, “We’ll tend to the rest of his troubles later. Let him get some rest first. He’s too wore out to heal right now.” “Mama, I can’t go back. There are too many people looking for my little Patrick,” she nodded toward the baby. “I know, Chile. Your room is already fix in th’ back. Th’ bebe can sleep in th’ cradle I fix fuh him. I been waitin’ fuh you.” Her voice was almost a whisper, but still very audible. “Thank you, Mama.” “Now, Chile, you go give that bebe some milk wit’ his med’cin in it right now. It will help him sleep right and you can git some rest too. Go,” she ordered. “I’ll git yuh othuh bags in heah fuh ya.” The young woman leaned forward – partially from sheer exhaustion and partially from gratitude – and her foster-mother opened her arms wide to receive her in an embrace. “I love you, Mama,” she breathed with relief. “And I’m so glad to be home again.” “I know, Chile, I know. We’ll talk when you git up from yuh rest. Go sleep, and I’ll take care of thangs fuh now.” The elderly lady bent to kiss the infant in the young woman’s arms. “Sleep bebe, sleep.” As the young mother and her son retreated to the back of the shack, seated well above the waterline on the dark bayou, Mama Walker stepped to the porch and retrieved her bags, shutting the door behind her and removing the light from the outside world once more.
1 Uncle Frank’s Epic Tale Begins
“Ya’ll see dat scar?” Uncle Frank asked. His real name was Francois, but we all called him Uncle Frank. He was raised in the marshy swamps and bogs of Louisiana, the same as all of us here, but he was much older than we were –nobody knew exactly how old he was, and nobody had the nerve to ask, either. Uncle Frank’s scar was as close to “proof” of “the Alligator King” as any of us had ever put our eyes on. I was seventeen, the oldest “child” present, and my sister, Danielle was thirteen. We were there together with some cousins as a sort of tradition – summer would be over soon and this was our last chance at a campout. There were eight of us that night, besides two more grown men – one of whom was my daddy and the other was a distant cousin (I think his name was Matthew) – with Uncle Frank, sitting around the campfire, waiting on the seats of our logs for the next words that would bring us closer to this “swamp legend” everyone claimed to see, but no one seemed to ever be able to prove having seen. Daddy and Matthew had heard it all when they were much younger, so they weren’t sitting with us. They were preparing supper and hanging food from the trees so animals wouldn’t raid it during the night. Uncle Frank raised his right arm so we could see the scar that ran from his wrist to his elbow, on the underside. It was almost a straight line, but it was a jagged line scar all the same. It widened at the elbow and narrowed toward his wrist. The scar was thick with age and almost the same color as his leathered skin. If he hadn’t pointed it out, I’m not sure we would ever have noticed it. Each of us nodded in affirmation. The bright glow of the firelight flickered and danced around us, making the scar seem all the more hideous in the deep night. Uncle Frank took a long draw off of his pipe, filled to the brim with Cherry tobacco. It usually made me sick to my stomach to smell it, but I was too enthralled with the story which was unfolding right there, right then, in front of me and my cousins. I fanned the air in front of my nose and listened with every hair in my ears. “Weeellll, now,” Uncle Frank began again, letting out a long thread of smoke, “dis scar,” he paused and pointed to it, “was actually give to me by de Alligator King.” We all gasped sharply, and then we began talking at once, attempting to ask questions or make remarks, and Uncle Frank even allowed us this interception for a minute, then he held up his hands to signal that we should quieten down a bit. He had more to say on the subject and would not tolerate interruptions in his tale… this night was to be his night for storytelling. Everybody knew he was the best storyteller in the family, and maybe in Louisiana. And what a storyteller he was. Louisiana hunters and fisherman were famous for “fish stories” and “the one that got away” – especially around a good fire with a couple other fellas for competition or a group of kids (like us) who were all ears – but Uncle Frank had them all beat, as far as we had heard. His stories weren’t made up or stretched by time and imagination – everybody said Uncle Frank’s stories were actually true, and that he had lived most of them. If that was true, he was a very old man. Uncle Frank was well into his seventies – we thought – but he didn’t disclose his age to many people, and those trusted few who knew how old he really was wouldn’t tell – it wasn’t their business or yours, if you asked them. Usually when you were listening to Uncle Frank, his stories took over and you forgot where you were and who you were with, so his age seemed to take a back burner – along with every other question you had for him. You never really thought about it again unless he happened to mention a date, or an ancestor. He was so intriguing, so compelling in his tale-telling, that to interrupt him seemed almost a cardinal sin. His voice was level but not monotonous; deep and raspy, but not gravelly or hard to listen to. His stories seemed to have a natural rhythm to them that was almost poetic and they all ended much too soon, no matter how long they lasted. So when Uncle Frank asked us if we saw his scar, we knew there was a story to be told and a story to hear. We were more than willing to hear it. “Okay, ya’ll ready now?” Uncle Frank waited for us to “settle down” so that he knew he had our full attention. Only then would he start his tale in earnest. We nodded in unison, and several among us verbally affirmed, “We ready, Uncle Frank!” The large fire-pit, glowing with bright flames, was built in a circular pit and covered with large stones gathered from the surrounding area, crackled and spit sparks occasionally. Uncle Frank had a long stick partially charred black, but smooth and round on one end, and he poked the fire, causing more sparks to fly upward and into the night. We waited in sincere anticipation for his words. Uncle Frank cleared his throat once more, took another long draw on his pipe, and let out the smoke. “Ya’ll see dis pipe? My daddy’s daddy carved dis pipe for his daddy, when he was just nine year ol’…” he began. Even though this side story didn’t sound like an introduction to the tale of the legendary Alligator King, we knew better than to interrupt. Uncle Frank might chase a few rabbits in his stories, but they always tied together in the end with whatever rope he had handy. Even if he didn’t get to the exact point he started toward, he would tell a tale worth listening to. We were literally sitting on the edges of the logs that surrounded the fire-pit, waiting for his next words. Uncle Frank delighted in our waiting and suspense. He knew the longer he drew it out, the better a response he got from us. He took another draw on his pipe, and held it up in front of his face, then pushed it closer to us for our inspection. “See dat date? Dat date… lessee… it say ‘December 18, 1888’… dat means it was a Christmas present for his daddy. ‘Das right! I remember my daddy sayin’ dat to me – when he first showed me dis pipe – when I was just a boy, like some o’ you are.” He drew again from the pipe. “An’ it smoke better today ‘dan it did ten year ago…(he let out the smoke again)... an’ ya know, my Paw-Paw was de firs’ man to get to know dat Alligator King. Yessirree, he sho’ was.” Uncle Frank now had our full, undivided attention, and he knew it. One of my cousins spoke. “But Uncle Frank, you said you got that scar from The Alligator King! How could he do that if he was as old as your paw-paw?” “Aha! I knowed one of ya would be payin’ attention, I sure did. Well, to answer dat, I gots to tol’ ya’ll about my paw-paw, ah? Awright, we can did dat. Look like we ain’t goin’ nowhere for awhile anyway.” Uncle Frank took his sweet time about tellin’ his story, and it was getting later and later, and darker and darker. It didn’t matter to us – right then – if it took two nights. We would still be sitting there, listening to Uncle Frank when the sun rose on the third day if we had to be. At least, I would be – this was one legendary scoop I would not miss for the world.
2 Mama Walker
Uncle Frank started his tale again. “To tole ya’ll de tale of de Alligator King, I got to start wit’ his family. Lessee… who to start wit’. Well I guess de first person to start wit’ would be… ah… maybe wit’ Mama Walker – she is really where de whole story starts.” He looked up at each of us, separately, and then asked, “Ya’ll know who Mama Walker is, anh?” Of course we didn’t know who Mama Walker was. We had heard the name, but she was reputed to be as much of a swamp legend as The Alligator King. Mama Walker was the beginning of the legend, though – that much we did know. We nodded our heads ‘yes’ anyway and waited for him to throw us another bone from his story to devour. “Well jus’ in case somebody here ain’t never heard of Mama Walker, let me tole you, she was one fierce woman. She could kill wild boars wit’ nothin’ but a stone-knife and her wits. She hunted down de biggest gators herself, and not even snakes made their way too close to her house on de water – she liked snake meat almost as much as she liked ‘gator meat.” Uncle Frank raised his head and looked up at the stars. “And she never needed no compass – she travelled by de sun and de stars when she had a need to go – day or night – it didn’t make no difference to her.” Uncle Frank puffed on his pipe steadily, and as he let it out, he continued. “She was married one time (and jus’ de one time); a long, long time ago, and her only husband was a lot older than she was. He was a trapper. He trapped everything from nutra-rats to beavers to foxes and panthers. Yessiree-bob, dat man was a trapper of de first order, and he taught Mama Walker everything he knew about it. Dey married when she was about… oh, about t’irteen – her daddy was de freed black overseer of a big plantation – and her husband was somewhere in his middle to late thirties.” Uncle Frank gave a side note to his story for us when he offhandedly commented, “Girls married mighty young in those dose days and dey husbands were usually already grown wit’ a house set up… just de way things was den, I guess,” he pondered aloud. Then he continued. “Anyway, she wasn’t much past twenty-one year ol’ and he left her a widow wit’ no children. She was still a very young woman and left all alone like that, it must have been mighty hard on her. Dat trapper husband had got hisself in some quicksand and before she could get him out, he had a heart attack and the life went out of his eyes, wit’ her watchin’ and tryin’ her best to save him. She saw him die while she was tryin’ to reach him, but when de life left him, she let him sink. I guess she figured dey wasn’t no need to dig out a dead man. He was still a fairly young man, but even young men die sometimes I guess. Mama Walker had to stand by helpless and watch him sink, knowin’ dey was nothin’ she could do. But de eight years they spent together married, and trappin’, she learned plenty about de swamps. Dey wasn’t a man alive who could compete wit’ her dead husband, especially afta’ dat – and dey wasn’t one who could keep her in good company, either. She must have really loved her husband because she wouldn’t have nothin’ to do wit’ any man after he died, and she just kept to herself out on dat bayou in dat little house built up over de water – it was more of a shack dan any’ting, but it’s still standin’ today – if you can find it.” Uncle Frank became silent and thoughtful, sitting in front of the fire puffing on his pipe and slowly letting his smoke trail around him. He rubbed his scar again. We waited in silent anticipation. “Now Mama Walker never had no kids of her own – at least not from her own body,” Uncle Frank started again. “But she raised her share out there in that little shack. I guess the one that made the most difference – in her life – was dat little half-orphan girl. Dat girl’s name was… oh, shoot, let me remember dis…” he paused again, “Summer! Dat’s right, Summer! Oh, I remember now. Summer was de grand-daughter – or de great grand daughter, maybe – of some Irishman and his wife who come over from Ireland in the late 1800’s…what was dat name?... Christie? No…. Karlifft?... No, dat ain’t it… Kacey?... Kacey…” Uncle Frank rolled the name over and over on his tongue. “Yeah, Kacey… I believe dat’s the name of dat girl’s folks. Now what was her daddy’s name?” Uncle Frank continued to talk to and answer himself while my cousins and I waited for the answers as if the words were food, and we were starving. “Oh, now I remember!” He looked at us and smiled a broad, toothy smile with smoke pouring from his nostrils like an ancient dragon. “Her daddy was dat half-French, half-indian boy (only Uncle Frank pronounced “indian” to sound like “injun”)… I don’t remember de nation he belonged to. It could have been Cherokee or Coushatta or Choctaw, I’m just not sure any more … his name was… oh shoot… I can’t remember his Christian name… but de folks around always called him Eagle Hawk because of de way he had wit’ those birds, which happened to be his name anyway. Den he just kind of used it like a last name, because everybody knew who Eagle Hawk was. He always knew where de birds were and how they acted, and shoot, he even had some trained. ‘Course he said he didn’t train ’em, he just loved ’em. Said dey did what dey wanted, and if dat was good for him, den it meant those birds loved him right back. Strange indian (injun), dat one, but smart as a whip. And he really had a way wit’ those birds. He could even get ’em to land on his arm and bring him fish. Dat was one smart fella, I tell you what.” Uncle Frank puffed three or four times on his pipe, and continued his tale. “Summer Kacey Eagle Hawk… that was de girl-baby that Mama Walker took in. Her mama died right after she was born – she was maybe two or t’ree weeks ol’ – and her indian (injun) daddy just showed up wit’ her one day. Dat bebe was all wrapped up in leather and feathers and beads, an’ her daddy was beggin’ Mama Walker to help him. Poor feller, he was hurtin’ somethin’ fierce. First he lost his wife – and it was from somethin’ strange too, not like an illness or de fever – but somethin’ like an animal attack or somethin’ – and den he couldn’t take care of his only chile (I personally t’ink it was ‘cause he was hurtin’ so bad, (Uncle Frank spoke as a second thought), and both sides of dey family lived too far away for him to ride wit’ dat baby… said she would have starved slap to deat’ before he made it to his family if Mama Walker hadn’t taken her in to raise. Mmm, mmm, mmm. I can’t even imagine de heartbreak dat fella went t’rew.” Uncle Frank paused again, giving us time to absorb his words, letting them settle in our hearts where he knew his story would have the most impact. I sat there in front of that fire, thinking about Uncle Frank’s words. A man with a baby who had just buried his wife, and had no knowledge of caring for the baby – or maybe no heart… he didn’t have a choice. I wondered to myself if the baby ever saw her father again. Surely he came back to visit his daughter… surely he did. Uncle Frank cleared his throat again. “I got to have somethin’ to drink. Ya’ll got to excuse me for a minute, chil’ren. I’ll be right back.” He got up – stretching as he did so – to retrieve a bottle of water from our “community cooler” and then slowly walked back to his seat to continue his tale. He sat, then opened the bottle and took a deep gulp from it. We watched as a large air bubble rose and displaced the water as it drained away. “Ahhhhhh,” Uncle Frank sighed. “Now dat’s good water. Where was I?” A knowing sparkle hit his eyes as he asked his question, because he knew we would all try to answer at once. This momentary interruption gave Uncle Frank time to tap out the previously smoked contents of his pipe and clean it out with a stick. As we all tried to answer (as he predicted) it sounded like a flock of magpies had invaded our little camping area, all trying to sing at once. Uncle Frank chuckled as he tapped his pipe on the log where he was sitting. He held up his one free hand in an attempt to quiet us again. “Okay, okay, okay… hold on dere…” Uncle Frank was still chuckling. “One at de time, please,” he said. My sister held her hand as high in the air as she could get it, waving it around in her attempts to get Uncle Frank’s attention. He saw her. “Yes, Danielle, do you have somethin’ to say?” he asked. “Yes, sir. I wanted to remind you of your place, in the story. You were telling us about Summer being brought to Mama Walker when she was a baby, because her daddy couldn’t take care of her…” “Oh, dat’s right… I was, wasn’t I? Okay, den… lessee…” Uncle Frank always waited and he always made the biggest impact by making us wait, too. “Well, when dat baby was brought to Mama Walker, I guess Mama wasn’t really a mama den… but she learned how to be. She had t’irteen brothers and sisters altogether, and she was about number t’ree or four herself, so she had some experience wit’ babies even before she got married or took in dat little girl baby. She tried to remember what she helped her mama do for her younger brothers and sisters when her mama ran out of milk – dere were so many of dem – and she remembered de goats. But Mama Walker didn’t have no goats – she didn’t even have a pig. Well, dere was only one t’ing to do – she had to find one. She knew dere were plenty of wild animals in de woods; boars, deer, big cats, wild dogs – but de one she wanted to be dere was either a goat or a cow.” Uncle Frank turned to us and asked, “Can you imagine having to feed a baby from a wild animal, or havin’ to milk a wild goat or pig?” He shook his head, and then continued. “But before she could hunt any animal down, she had to feed this baby something. Dere were wild figs growing on de edges of de swamp and she had picked some the day before Mr. Eagle Hawk showed up. Dere was a bit of fresh fig milk still running out off ‘em, so she laid dat little girl baby down and went to milk those figs. She figured since she was giving the baby de milk off de figs, she might as well mash the figs demselves into a paste. If t’ings got too bad, she’d have to feed dose mashed figs to de baby. And de most important thing about living out in de swamps – (he looked back at the row of teenagers around the fire again) now mind ya’ll, dis was before electricity – was you learned where de springs of water ran out. Dat’s where de coldest water usually is and dat’s the source of de freshest water, too.” He held up his water bottle for emphasis. “Dat type of fresh-water spring… dat’s where Mama Walker kept food perishables when she had to. And dat was definitely a have-to time.” “Now during those years in between her husband dying and dat baby girl arriving, Mama Walker learned more about de land dan jus’ how to trap off of it. She learned by trial and error (and mostly error) of de t’ings dat were dangerous, de t’ings dat were deadly, and de t’ings dat were most destructive of all – dose t’ings dat would steal your mind and soul if you got caught up in ‘em. Dey was so much hokey-pokey and so many Voodoo folks runnin’ loose down dere, dat she had to keep herself watchful of everybody she talked to, which wasn’t many people, but she was still watchful. She guarded her heart and mind like a king’s guard watches his post.” Uncle Frank puffed his pipe and thought as he let his smoke billow out of his mouth. “Now – because her father had been a freed overseer on a plantation, Mama Walker was allowed a few freedoms herself. When she was very young, she had one friend who lived in De Big House. She was white, and Mama Walker always called her “Teapot” when she talked about her. Dis white friend – Teapot – who lived in de plantation house taught her how to read – but in secret because dey weren’t sure if dey would get in trouble about it – and de book they chose to learn to read wit’ was de Holy Bible. Since dat collection of books was deir choice of a learning tool, Mama Walker (known den as Ruth, to Teapot) read dose stories over and over again until she could memorize them. When Ruth married at t’irteen, her husband had carved a pretty good-sized cross for her out of some cypress wood, and she hung it in what she called her receiving room. After Mr. Walker passed away, her Bible was her only source of hearing a human voice, because she read out loud to herself – and she began to read it more, learning how to study it and divide its trut’ the right way, like it says. She grew very close to de Holy Spirit dat way.” “Now, I want to tell ya’ll something right now, and you listen good. Even though dey was people who said Mama Walker was a Voodoo Priestess of some high ranking sort, that wasn’t true. She’s a God-fearing woman who loves wit’ her whole self. So those stories are just dat – stories – and don’t you believe ’em!” Uncle Frank looked to be taking on a more personal nature as he spoke about Mama Walker. In fact, the more he spoke of her, the more his face shone. I could rightly reason that Uncle Frank loved Mama Walker… which meant that he knew her, and that he was probably a lot older than he let on to be. And he spoke of her in the present sense, which meant… what? Mama Walker was alive? Uncle Frank was still busy cleaning out his pipe with a small stick, taking precious care with the inside of it, not to harm it or scar it in any way; to try to preserve it, as it seemed to be his most valuable keepsake. After he finished cleaning it as well as he could with the stick, he reached in his pocket for his tobacco, to re-pack it. Lost deep in thought, about mid-way through packing his pipe he looked up to see us all waiting anxiously for his next words… words that were lost; bogged down deep in the swamps of his mind… or was it his memories?
“Oh…” Uncle Frank said. “I’m sorry… I guess I just got lost in my own t’oughts for a minute. Haven’t t’ought about Mama Walker in quite a spell, and it just hit me. Okay, back to de story now.” He tapped his pipe on his leg, put it in his mouth to light it, then pulled it back out and stuck it in his pocket. “I t’ink I can tell my story without dis for a bit… we have a lot of telling to tell, so we’ll just get wit’ it.” He cleared his throat again and patted his pocket as if tucking in a child to bed. His eyes began to glaze over as he travelled backwards in time, dragging up tales he hadn’t told in a coon’s age. “Mama Walker took good care of that baby – she sure did. I don’t know all the details of how it happened, but she ended up with a cow and a goat for dat baby. Dat little girl’s daddy made sure she had ‘em; at least he knew enough to know dat de baby needed milk, even if he didn’t know everyt’ing about raisin’ babies. He lived close enough to Mama Walker dat he did visit – usually six or seven times a year, and more some years. De little girl grew up good underneat’ de wings of the mama hen she had. Since the baby was already named when Mama Walker took her in, and Mama Walker t’ought it was such a beautiful name, she loved it almost as much as she loved dat child. Now de middle and last names of de child came from her mother and father’s sides of the family. Bot’ of dey last names ended up wit’ her so to keep her history and her family heritage intact. Mama Walker knew she might want to find ‘em one day and a name was as good a place to start as any.” Uncle Frank stopped talking long enough to twist off the cap of his water bottle and take another long drink. “Boy, dat’s good water.” “Okay, well, now… oh yes, Mama Walker. Mama Walker and dat little girl roamed de swamps and inlets together – and they were fearless. Dat girl was de very reason Mama Walker learned to mix herbs and concoct remedies for healing just about anyt’ing. Dat child would swell up like a bumblebee got hold of her, any time a mosquito came near her. Mama Walker had to mix ointments together to rub on her skin to keep de bugs off, and another ointment to keep de sun off, because she got so much Irish in her from her great-grandparents dat she burned every time she went out in de summer sun. She grew up beautiful – yes she did! – and smart as a whip, too. Wasn’t long before she was recitin’ dat Bible right along wit’ Mama Walker, and den she started readin’ too.” Uncle Frank suddenly became thoughtful and spoke as if he were talking to himself. “Never heard of a youngun who could read as early as that one, but den, Mama had plenty of time to teach her. And when she was just a little grasshopper, she accepted de Lord Jesus into her heart. Dat was always one of Mama Walker’s favorite stories to tell.” That glazed look came back to Uncle Frank’s eyes as he recounted days gone. He began again, quickly. “By de time she was old enough to start cookin’, she was learning de healing business from Mama Walker. Summer could cook a full meal before she was ten years old and about dat same time, her daddy came for her, to take her to live wit’ him. Summer didn’t want to go – even though she loved her daddy – and she ran out into de swamps to hide from him. But Eagle Hawk was patient, so he just sat back at Mama Walker’s and waited. On the morning of de second day, Summer came back to the hut to confront her daddy. She immediately apologized for running away, den proposed to bargain with him and asked for t’ree more years to stay wit’ Mama Walker. She wanted to learn de healing arts that Mama had been teachin’ her and she couldn’t yet bear de thought of leaving her, either. Mama Walker was de only mother Summer ever knew, so Eagle Hawk agreed.” Uncle Frank yawned and stretched. “Anybody need a break yet?” he asked. Several of us rose to walk around a bit, get a drink of water, or head to an area of the woods better suited for “relief”. As soon as everyone was gathered back around the fire pit and the fire was built up a bit, we all sat down and quickly quietened so Uncle Frank could resume his tale. “Well, Summer did not want to leave Mama Walker, but Mama told her that she already knew she had to go. She also told her to be ready to come back when it was time. When Summer asked her how she would know, Mama told her to listen to the Spirit and follow his instructions… she would hear them in the form of a still, small voice inside her head. Since Summer had learned to listen to this Spirit as a child, Mama Walker knew that letting her go was the only way to get her back.” “But Uncle Frank, what does that mean? To let her go is the way to get her back? Huh? I don’t understand…” one of my younger cousins interrupted, followed by a loud “Shhhhhhhhh!” from everyone else. Uncle Frank smiled and continued. His voice wasn’t as loud as it had been, but he didn’t have to be any more – we were listening as closely as we could without having to be hushed. “Within the three years that Eagle Hawk promised to give to Summer, Mama Walker taught her daughter the healing remedies that she had herself learned in years past. Summer’s skin had darkened in those short months that flew by, and she no longer needed ointments or salves to keep the sun at bay. She looked almost identical to her father, except for the bright blue eyes in her browned face, with curly black hair that hung in layers of curls to the middle of her back. While she could thank her father’s French ancestors for the blue eyes and his people of the Indian nation (whichever one that was) for her hair coloring, it was from her mother’s family that she received her curls. Now her complexion – her skin color – that was a true mystery. That child was born white but when she tanned in the sun, she stayed dark, because of her daddy’s people. The one other thing that stayed with her skin were those freckles underneath that brown tan. Neither Summer nor Mama Walker was aware that Summer wouldn’t be living with her father on the edges of the swamps, in the deepest forest outposts, where Summer would at least be close to Mama Walker and have freedom in the outdoors. Instead, he would be taking her to a train station to meet up with her mother’s people – the Kacey’s. From there, she would ride in a private coach to a plantation on the other side of the state, called Kacey Meadows. She was to be received by her relatives and taught the ways of young ladies. He had made all the arrangements, years earlier. Eagle Hawk wanted the best opportunities for his daughter and he meant that she should have them, at any cost to himself. His wife’s family could provide those opportunities for her. They had money and a name for themselves. They could give his daughter the best of everything the world had to offer. If his sacrificial act of love meant that his daughter could be happy – even if she didn’t want that life now, as she matured she might want more, and his thinking was that he could give her the choice, if nothing else – then that’s what he would do for her.” Uncle Frank paused again, speaking, but his words were not directed at us. “Of course, he didn’t know what would happen. We never do, do we?” he whispered to the air. Then he turned back to his captive audience and spoke softly, “The last three years that Summer spent with Mama Walker were years of much teaching and learning. They were also the years of Summer’s blossoming into a young woman. When her father came for her, he saw not a child, but a young woman growing into her womanly frame, complete with a woman’s figure, tall and slender and strong. Broke his heart, it did… ‘cause by that time, chilren’… he knew she would be gettin’ married soon. His little girl was all growed up.” 3 Eagle Hawk Uncle Frank took another sip from his water bottle, wiped his mouth, and relit his pipe. He puffed a few times and then the same glossy film covered his eyes once more, and he began to speak in an eerie, almost mesmerized tone. It was like Uncle Frank was hypnotized while he was talking, but none of us had the ability to stand and wake him. “Eagle Hawk was a man of high integrity; a man of his word. He was a wandering man, from one of the Louisiana tribes (Coushatta, Choctaw, or Cherokee) and he had a very unique gift. Eagle-Hawk could speak to the birds. The birds had been in his vision, and now they were in his reality. Hawks followed him from place to place, foraging for him when the terrain showed signs of little or no food supply. The Eagles welcomed him when he entered their territory by swooping down and landing very close to him on branches, slowly making their way to him fully, and finally, landing on his outstretched arm he offered as a roost. Eagle-Hawk was only seventeen when he left the people to search out his vision, but he had been considered a man for quite some time, hunting and caring for his family along with his father. Birds of all sorts joined him in his quest, and some offered themselves as his meals many times. But the Eagles and the Hawks were the most apparent, and the people were hard pressed not to notice the birds’ affection for him. After his smoke lodge vision, his people began calling him ‘Eagle-Hawk’ as his new name; the name that was a sign of his manhood.
His parents took great care in his well-being, both physical and spiritual. While his mother was a French-woman, captured as a child by a band of raiders, his father was a future medicine man - his grandfather was still alive, and he would hold the position until his death. The raiders who kidnapped his mother were not part of any tribe of the people; instead, they were white men bent on the destruction of those attempting to make new lives for themselves in this wild land his people already called their home. Instead of building a life for themselves, the white invaders stole the lives of others and took their belongings to sell for their own profit. Thus they made their way in the land – at least, until the Hunting Party found them, shoving a young girl towards a huge, blazing campfire to frighten her, pulling her from the edge of the inferno with a rope at the last instant. Even the idea that someone could show such disrespect to an innocent child –and a girl, besides – enraged the band of hunters, and they quickly made their decision as one. They would rescue this dirty little rag doll who was so helpless in the hands of heartless and repugnant men. There were only six of the evil men – if they could be called men – and the Hunting Party numbered sixteen. It would be over quickly. By the time the hunting party rescued the girl from her captors, the raiders had held her captive for almost two weeks, and she had retreated into a deep hole within her own mind. She allowed herself to be placed on horseback – without any fight left in her at all – and taken to the people. Only the kindness of the wife of the Medicine Man was able to reach her – and only after many months of soft words and kind gestures toward her. She took the girl in to her home and her heart, loved her as she would any other children – if she had been able to bear any – and adopted this little lost white-haired timid deer. During the first nine years of the child’s life, she was called “Colette”, but it had been almost a month since anyone called her by her name. Even if she spoke it aloud, no one would be able to understand her. Because of the sky-blue color of her eyes, and because they were quite large and expressive – and even seemingly larger because her face was so delicate – she was called ‘Blue Fawn’, as her eyes were at first her only means of expression, because she did not speak the language which suddenly surrounded her. In time she learned – and fairly quickly – but there were many moons in which the young girl did not speak a word. For that time, she was known as “the quiet one”. She was later adopted by the same Medicine Man and his wife, who were known to all as Clawing Bears and Soaring Dove, and accepted by the entire tribe as one of their own. By that time, she had been with the people for a little over a year. She had learned the language, learned to love Soaring Dove and her husband as her new parents, and taught them a bit of what she had learned about her own life as a white child, few years though they were. She tried to tell them of her Jesus, but they did not understand so she kept Him to herself for the time being. Perhaps her prayers would have some effect on her attempts to share Him with the people. She so wanted them to know Jesus – He was the only thing aside from her purity, that the band of raiders had not taken from her; He was the most important of the two things that she had been able to hold on to. Blue Fawn kept her prayers faithfully as she had since she was taken by the kidnappers, although she did not understand them all at first. As she grew, she understood more about the sacrifice that her Lord had made for her, and she renewed her vows to Him, promising to tell all who would listen about Him. The year that Blue Fawn reached fourteen summers, it was evident that she would some day make a fine wife for the man her parents would choose for her. Fawn could skin any animal brought to her as well as any native-born girl in the tribe. She could clean the hide and tan it, make clothes and shoes from it, and repair her own tools. She could cook as well as Soaring Dove and enjoyed doing so when the need arose. She was even learning the healing secrets from her father, the tribal Medicine Man. She could make salves and ointments and she could cook the broths which settled uneasy stomachs. Blue Fawn learned to strain the liquids which caused a man to become drowsy, which became most useful when he was in need of surgical care. Occasionally, a wild boar (or some other horned animal) would gore one of the hunters. He would be carried in on a flat bed, usually made of tanned deer hide, laced around two poles which stuck out at each end. During these times, Fawn would administer the liquid in small warmed droplets over his lips and let them drain down his throat slowly. This made him unaware that he was actually being given medicine, so he did not resist, and when he fell into a deep sleep, Clawing Bears was able to hold the wound tightly together so Blue Fawn and her mother could sew up the gored appendage. Because of her dedication to helping others, her willingness to learn, and the knowledge she seemed to inhale, her parents felt that only the most selfless man should have her hand. They decided not to choose themselves, but to leave it to the Lord to bring him to her. Fawn’s parents decided that a husband for her would have to be a man of notable stature in the tribe. A man as dedicated, as honourable, and as knowledgeable as Fawn was the only choice they could make for her. It would not be a suitable decision to place her with a man who felt inferior to her or did not understand her. They knew it would never be an issue for Fawn because of her sweet demeanour, but most men were not so forgiving. Suitors were not an issue; however, their dilemma was in choosing the right suitor. They prayed for their daughter and for the right man for her to arrive when it was the appropriate time. As Fawn grew, her dreams began to become more and more real to her. She was being shown in her nocturnal visions, the husband that her Lord had chosen for her, but she could never see his face – all she ever saw was hooves of horses and the great clouds of dust they left as they ran together as one. As her dreams grew more vivid, her beauty grew as well, and among the people it was well known. She possessed hair that was as golden as the wheat stalks at harvest time, and although it was straight as an arrow, it fell past her hips, even when braided. When it was loose, the wind caressed it and carried it all around her in waves, as if it were floating in water. Her blue eyes were the same color as the sky above on a bright, clear day, and her skin was white as milk. During the next two years, eligible suitors flooded the door of their home, but Fawn was not allowed to even look out – until the day Many Horses arrived.
Many Horses was a great hunter and brave warrior whose father was also the tribal Medicine Man, and he lived in a village not far from Fawn’s. He had heard of the great beauty with hair like wheat and eyes of the sky since he was a young boy. He had heard the stories of a quiet milky white-skinned girl from the times before he went into the smoke-lodge for his vision, and knew that when his vision was accomplished, he would have her for his wife. Although he had never set his physical eyes on Blue Fawn before, he had already set his heart on her, and he intended to have her as his bride. His vision told him she was to be his wife. He had heard tales of her strength, her skills with both knife and awl, and her fine cooking abilities. Her quiet ways, he noted, would just be an added bonus to him. Because she had also been raised by the village medicine man, Many Horses knew that she would be submitted to him in marriage and for that grace, he would honour his bride with his whole being. Being a submissive wife was the highest way a woman could honour a man. Many Horses also knew that he would have a high bride price to pay; not that her father would require a price as great what Many Horses would give, but he would offer it, just the same. As soon as he had enough mares ready to take to Clawing Bears to ask for her hand in marriage, he would travel the short distance and speak with him. Many Horses had just passed his twentieth winter when he accumulated the horses he would need for his mission. The day Many Horses chose to leave, a great storm arrived and scattered the mares. Although they were freed, they did not travel far and he had to travel less than a mile to gather them all. He located each horse, and then tied one to the other; head to head to head to head with extra tether in between each, in a continual natural rope harness that he had braided himself. He had found a way to braid the ropes that added another section and made it infinitely stronger, but he had not had the time to teach anyone else his secret. This rope, which length measured the span of sixty horses with lead to spare, would also be part of his gift to Fawn’s father in the hopes that he would receive her. Fifty mares – and some of them already gestating – given for one woman were unheard of, in any nation or any tribe. Even ten horses were more than fair for a bride price, but fifty was the price Many Horses was offering. Each horse was either a beautifully spotted paint or a palomino. He tethered five extra horses as a gift to the Chief (all painted and spotted), as well. It was the vision Many Horses saw when he was in the smoke-hut that caused him to offer such a generous sum; fifty horses and no less – that was the price of his devotion to his future bride and her family. As Many Horses rounded the last tree line before reaching the first house in the village, people heard the thunder of the number of horses running beside him. The people began counting as he passed each house. He had to travel through the entire village before reaching Clawing Bear’s home. The Medicine Man’s lodge was closest to the forest, closest to his herbs and the first person to reach when returning from hunting. This location made Clawing Bears easy to locate in times of dire accidents or severe illness. No one in the village was able to count the entire herd before they reached their destination, but by the time they ran through the village, every person was outside of their lodge and watching intently, to see what would happen. Many Horses reached the home of Clawing Bears before the sun was high in the sky and the heat was not so unbearable. He held the tether to the group of horses tightly in one fist; with the other he held the reins of his own horse. He stood outside the home and waited for someone to open the door, and within a few minutes, it did. The face behind the door was not the person he hoped it would be, but Soaring Dove was nonetheless a beautiful woman. She welcomed him with politeness and asked if he was there to speak with her husband or if he needed medicine. “I wish to speak with Clawing Bears.” He hoped he didn’t sound nervous or irritated, as nervousness sometimes affected him in such a way as to sound angry when he was not. “I cannot enter your home,” he nodded toward the horses and held up the rope which tethered them, “but if it pleases your husband, I would speak with him here.” It was also protocol which prevented Many Horses from entering the lodge of Blue Fawn. He was there to make an honest offer for her… and all marriage proposals were public events, held outside the door of the bride-to-be, due to the seriousness of the matter. Marriage was the highest honour a man could give a woman, and after that, sincerely caring for her and the children she bore him would be his way of continuing that honour. The whole tribe was held responsible for the success of the marriage afterwards, but the man must first be found worthy of the woman – before the marriage. The door shut once more and Many Horses waited. In a few moments, it opened again and standing in the doorway in full headdress was Clawing Bears. “Do you need medicine?” That was the standard first question from all in his home, and Clawing Bears was not a breaker of tradition, especially when it concerned his home and his profession in the tribe. “No, Great Medicine Man, I do not.” “Then what is your business here?” Clawing Bears already knew what Many Horses wanted, but he wanted to see the desire of this young man present itself. This, too, was protocol before engagement, for the young man to present himself as worthy among the elders who had gathered and stood close by, watching and listening. After introducing himself as the son of... from the village of... he managed to get to the point of his visit. Good manners were paramount in intertribal villages and peoples, and Many Horses formal manners were quite impressive. “I wish to ask a great favour of Clawing Bears, and for this favour I offer fifty horses.” “Fifty horses! For what favour to Many Horses am I being honored in such a way that would cost him fifty horses?” “The favour I request of Clawing Bears, is the favour of granting permission to wed his daughter, Blue Fawn. The fifty ponies are the sum of the bride price I offer to the family of Blue Fawn.” Clawing Bears counted the stallions while Many Horses recited his request, and noted that there were fifty-five horses present, aside from the pony the young man rode himself. “Many Horses offers a great price for the daughter of the Medicine Man. But you have never seen Blue Fawn, or met her. How is it that you wish to marry her, but yet, you do not know her?” “Oh Great Medicine Man, hear me but this once. I know her as I know my own soul and I know that she is the only woman the Great Spirit will allow for me. I saw her in a vision as I sat in the smoke-lodge, the day I was granted my vision and my name by the Great Spirit. I know that there is no other for me, than Blue Fawn. These many mares I offer for her and now give them to you as a gift, Clawing Bears. I also have five horses for your Chief, Three Panthers. I offer them to him because I wish to take Blue Fawn with me, as my wife – today – and the tribe would lose a valuable woman if this is allowed. You know that my father, Rising Sun, is the Medicine Man of our people. Blue Fawn already possesses many skills in healing that will prove her most valuable when I take my father’s place as Medicine Man. What does Clawing Bears require of me that I can prove or supply to him, in honour of his daughter, Blue Fawn?” “Wait here.” Clawing Bears turned and walked in the lodge, shutting the door behind him. “Blue Fawn.” “Yes, father?” “Tell me your dreams, Child.” “My dreams? Yes… my dreams have been the same for two years now, Father. I have spoken to you of them and they are still as they were. All I am able to see is horses’ hooves, pounding the land and stirring the dust beneath them. There are so many horses’ hooves that nothing else can be seen (besides the dust), and I hear a loud thundering, but I know it is not thunder which makes this noise, but the horses’ hooves, pounding the ground as they run.” “That is all?” “Yes, Father. That is the whole dream.” Clawing Bears turned to his wife and spoke. “It is time.” Dove’s eyes grew large and tears filled them instantly. She knew that her daughter’s future husband was the man standing outside their door. “Yes, Husband.” “Prepare our daughter.” “Yes, Husband.” Once more, Bears walked outside to face the young man who was growing more anxious by the second. But Many Horses knew that Blue Fawn was the only woman for him, because he had seen her in his vision of the horses in the smoke lodge. He told no one of Fawn’s appearance in his vision until that day – he only told the elders of his tribe about the horses, keeping the rest to himself. Clawing Bears now knew what he had seen in his vision, as well as the elders surrounding them. The elders were eight or nine older married (some widowed) warriors and hunters of the tribe who had earned many coup and great honour for themselves in years past. They were now the Council by which laws were passed or changed within the community. Their word was law, and even if Clawing Bears and Soaring Dove agreed to the marriage, the Council could still refuse Many Horses to wed Blue Fawn. Many Horses decided to hold on tightly to the vision he had seen as a boy. His smoke lodge images would suffice him… at least, until Clawing Bears opened the door and walked to him, facing him with the sternest of looks. Horses could not read the face of the older man, but he knew in his heart what he would say. “Council members, please come forth!” Bears announced. A loud murmur sped through the rest of the gathered crowd behind the council members as they approached the two men in front of the lodge. “This man, Many Horses – ” Bears said, pointing towards Horses “asks now for the hand of my daughter, Blue Fawn. Let the Council now speak of this matter.” At first, the council members stood in a semi-circle and whispered between themselves. As one looked up, scanning Many Horses and the gifts he brought, more began to follow suit with the inspection. Finally, the eldest member of the Council held up both his hands toward the rest and they hushed quickly. He took five or six steps forward, facing both Clawing Bears and Many Horses. “The gifts are very great, that Many Horses offers for Blue Fawn. They are enough to prove his worth as a good provider for your daughter – but because of Fawn’s beginnings with the people, we leave the final decision to Clawing Bears and Soaring Dove.” A great gasp emerged from the crowd, revealing their surprise in the Council’s decision. Clawing Bears smiled. “As always, the Council has wisely chosen.” Then turning to Many Horses, he said, “We will grant your request and your gift is sufficient, but there is one condition that you must fulfil for our daughter. She cannot leave until her days of purification are complete. There is one more moon to rise before that can be accomplished. In three weeks you may return to wed and claim your bride.” Many Horses thought quickly. “Clawing Bears, it is a great honour that has been given to me today. But I have one more request of you, if you will suffer me to speak. I ask only that you do not separate us in these three weeks. I ask for an allotment of time… I offer to stay in this village to be near to her, to learn of her and her ways, and her family’s ways. I offer to assist you and your household in any way I might, during the time in which I must wait. I will care for your horses and hunt for your family as my final gift before marriage.” Clawing Bears’ eyes grew wide – he had never heard of such an offer – but to know how serious this young man was gladdened his heart. Even the Council was speechless. “It is agreed, Many Horses. You will be allowed this honour, providing one of the Council members also agrees… to house you during your stay.” In an instant, the eldest of the council stepped forward and pronounced his willingness to allow this event to take place. His name was Raging Waters and he had seen more than seventy winters in his lifetime. He had outlived two wives, produced thirteen children, and had no desire for more of either. He was now alone in his lodge and enjoyed his solitude; his only full-time companion was his dog. Still, he enjoyed the company of a human companion from time to time. The young man would be a nice diversion for awhile, and he could catch up on news of his relatives living in Many Horse’s village. He introduced himself to Many Horses and instructed him on how to find his lodge. Many Horses accepted the elder’s offer and turned back to Bears for instructions on where to settle the mares. As soon as Clawing Bears showed him where to lead the horses, he told the young man to check in with Raging Waters before beginning his hunt for the day. Then Clawing Bears turned and walked inside his home, leaving Many Horses to his own imaginations.
Inside the lodge of Clawing Bears and Soaring Dove, Blue Fawn was leaning on her mother and weeping with her. “What is wrong?” asked Clawing Bears as he entered. “Nothing is wrong, Husband,” Soaring Dove tried to explain. “We are happy that the dreams Fawn has had are finally being realized. We know it was the Lord’s hand that has done this.” Only a few months prior to Many Horses’ arrival, Blue Fawn approached her parents about the one issue in her heart that would not be quieted – her Saviour and Lord. After listening to her describe the joy in her heart and the sacrifice of Christ, they had questions. Blue Fawn was able to tell in minimal detail what she recollected of prayers… and churches… and preachers… and the love she remembered; most of all, the love she felt when she prayed to Him. Even though she had been only nine years old when she came to her parents, they recognized in her something very special, and knew that a Great Spirit was at work not only with her, but in her… as if it were actually inside Fawn. Soaring Dove and Clawing Bears knew that the Great Spirit was all around everyone. They knew from their own lives, that sometimes the sacrifice of one was sufficient for many – and her given example proved sufficient; when a deer gave up its life, others lived because of the nutrition it provided. After hearing their daughter’s pleas for acceptance of the Sacrificial One, they prayed with her a child’s prayer of repentance and accepted her “Great Spirit” (who she called by the name Jesus) to lead them. Since that time, only a few months ago, they had all grown in leaps and bounds in their hearts and in their prayer life. They all knew that it was because of their prayers that Fawn now had a suitable husband – or she would have, in three weeks. In the meantime, they would attempt to bring their future son into the saving graces of their Lord as they prepared for the forthcoming nuptials. They also used this time to gather in the different tribes of the nation – which meant that Many Horses’ family – and the entire village – could also attend.
Chief Three Panthers accepted the gifts presented to him by Many Horses, admiring the beautiful brown and black spotted mares he received, two of which would foal soon. His sons were already arguing over which horse would be theirs. The entire encampment was buzzing in preparation for the wedding of their Medicine Man’s daughter. Fawn’s wedding dress was being sewn, and her moccasins were being soled. Beads were being added by the hundreds to each garment she was to wear and her hair was being prepared with a honey-based moisture-locking overnight rub. She was given extra milk for the three days before her wedding. This extra milk was given in order for her to take a milk bath before the wedding ceremony. The milk would function as her final purification ritual.
My publisher called me the other day while I was in class but I missed the call - just to tell me they received my contract and we would begin "soon".
I can't wait, I tell you. I'm presently working on the second installment of this series and it's not going well because I haven't been able to devote the time to it that I did to the first, but that's okay. It'll get done.
A name.... not sure yet... Kacey Meadows maybe?.... haven't really decided...
Use the following link to order...Gypsy Phoenix...or email me at email@example.com for a signed Author's Copy
"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."