By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric
A River Standalone Story
Roundstones and the Wolf
(This story, related by Mark Waters, uses Ojibwe terms in many places. The initial part of the story comes from Mark’s own imagination, but later the history of the Ojibwe people is incorporated into the story from Manitou, speaking to Mark through the river.)
Long ago, in the early years, a young warrior aged about 12 winters watched in futility as eleven older warriors of his band headed out to hunt. “You are too small,” they had said, leaving him behind with the women and younger boys. It didn’t help that the men had taken the bulk of the remaining food, and left the women closely guarding the rest until they returned from their hunt with a bear, deer, or moose to feed the people. Roundstones, the boy, was hungry, angry, and sad that he was too small to hunt.
Roundstones decided in his shame to go hunting on his own. Perhaps he could get a rabbit or groundhog to add to the community pot. So he gathered his spears, and also the treasured knife that his grandfather had shaped from flint many years ago, and headed out in the opposite direction to the hunting party.
After about an hour, he heard a noise and dropped to the ground, preparing his spear. He would probably only get a single throw if it was a fast small creature like a rabbit. He lay silently on the damp soil for a long few minutes, hoping that something tasty would come by.
Ma'iingan the wolf limped into the clearing, and Roundstones nearly tossed his spear. Wolf is not the tastiest food, but it would feed the people tonight. But something stopped Roundstones from throwing, and he instead watched silently. He was proud of his stealth. Many of the men who had gone hunting could not keep quiet enough to be undetected by a wolf.
The wolf was injured. He walked into the clearing, and Roundstones saw a large stick poking into his side. The boy thought about it. It didn’t look like a spear, but a simple branch. Perhaps the wolf had fallen off a bank or cliff onto the stick, letting it pierce his hide. At any rate, it looked serious, and the wolf suddenly tottered and then fell onto his other side.
Roundstones stood quietly. The wolf heard him rise, and looked about frantically, but was unable to gain his feet again. “Don’t worry,” Roundstones said. “I will not hurt you.” The boy could almost kick himself in frustration. Here was a meal, ready to go, and he had just promised it sanctuary. He continued to approach the animal, which had bared its fangs until the boy had spoken.
“Who are you?” the wolf said.
“I am Roundstones, but you can call me Round,” the boy said. “You are hurt?”
“Yes. The pack was chasing a deer. We have not fed for several days, and were a bit reckless. I tumbled off a cliff, and fell on a stick. The rest of the pack had to chase the deer, and I was left. I hoped to make it back to our dens, but I can’t.”
“Would you like me to pull it free?” Round asked.
“If you would. I will not bite you, even if it hurts.”
“I think it will hurt,” the boy said. He then reached out and pulled out the stick, and blood began to flow.
The wolf started to lick the wound, and slowly its saliva helped seal the wound. Round poured water from his canteen out into his hand, and the wolf gently lapped it up, giving him more saliva to heal himself. Soon the wolf fell back into sleep. Round listened to it breathing and sat quietly waiting for his new friend to waken.
About an hour later, a rabbit hopped into the clearing from upwind, not smelling nor hearing the boy or the wolf. Round had his spear at the ready, and quickly hit the rabbit, piercing it in the chest. The rabbit died immediately.
Here is food for the people tonight, Round thought. But he looked at the wolf, and thought that there would be enough at the camp for the people tonight, but Ma'iingan needed food to heal himself. He picked up the still warm rabbit and brought it to the sleeping wolf. He placed the spear wound of the rabbit next to the animal’s mouth, and let the blood drip in. Suddenly the wolf’s great tongue lashed out, lapping up the blood. Then his jaws clamped down on the rabbit, and squeezed more blood out. The wolf never woke.
When the wolf stopped feeding on the blood, Round decided to take the rabbit back. He was hungry too. It took more than a little work to pry the animal out of Ma'iingan’s mouth, but eventually he was able to do so. He took his knife and skinned the beast. In spite of the wolf bites, his mother might be able to do something with the pelt.
Round then cleaned the animal, leaving the entrails on a rock for the wolf when it awakened. He started a small fire, and cooked rabbit meat on sticks, eating his fill, and leaving a smaller portion raw with the entrails. Round felt full for the first time in days, and laid back on a tree, guarding the wolf from harm. It was past noon when the wolf woke with a jerk, and quickly stood, looking about furtively.
“You are better?” Round asked.
“You are real?” the wolf said. “I thought I was dreaming. I dreamed that you pulled the stick, and gave me water. Then I remember feeding on rabbit’s blood.”
“You did,” Round said. “And there is the rest of the rabbit.” He pointed, and the wolf gobbled down the food. Round had also piled the bones there, and the wolf ended his lunch by crunching bones to extract the marrow inside.
“Thank you,” the wolf said. “I declare you to be a wolf friend, and all my people will be friends with the people of the river. If you have need of me, just whistle, and I will come if I am near enough to hear.” With that, the wolf loped off towards his pack, and as he did so, he caused three rabbits to scatter and run away from him, but towards Round. The young brave quickly had his spears out, and unleashed two in succession, each killing a rabbit.
The wolf didn’t look back, so Round wasn’t sure if it had been helping, or had just accidentally sent the prey towards the boy. At any rate, Round was able to skin the rabbits and take the food home to his people. His mother and the other women added the rabbit to a stew, and the entire tribe ate well that night. Except for the hunters who had gone the other direction, and returned home late with no food, and had to make do on the remains of the food in the pot.
The next day the men went out again. They had laughed at Round’s story about the wolf, so he didn’t ask to join them this time, although several would have spoken up for him for feeding the people the day before. The men went in a different direction, north, while Roundstones went in the same direction as the day prior. There was that third rabbit out there, and perhaps more.
When the sun was high in the sky, Round felt that his friend was near, and whistled. A few moments later Ma'iingan trotted into the clearing.
“You look well,” Round said. “Your leg is healing nicely.”
“Yes, thanks to you. Had I gone back to my pack as a cripple, I might have been chased away. With the healing I had before I got there I was able to defend myself from those who want my position. The pack is hunting to the north today, but I decided to take one more day to recover. Besides, I think there is a deer this way.”
“Yes. If I get around behind it, I can chase it this way. You can hide in a bush, and when the deer comes, you throw one of your sticks at it. We will split the kill, half for the wolves, and half for the people.”
“My spears? Yes, I can do that,” Round said.
The two made plans, and the wolf headed off at a lope. After about an hour Roundstones heard a howl, and knew it was Ma'iingan. He was far enough away that it would take about 15 minutes for the deer to get close, so the boy prepared, hoping that his new friend would be able to direct the deer his way.
Suddenly the deer burst through the bush and ran almost straight at Round. It was an easy throw, and the boy did not miss. The deer died instantly. It was a young buck, perhaps in its third year, and was big enough that Round could not have carried all the meat back to his people, even if he didn’t have to share.
Ma'iingan arrived about five minutes later. “Good,” he said as he watched Round skin and clean the animal. “We both get half. You can take the skin, it is of little use to us.”
“You can have all the entrails, then” Round said.
“Are you sure?” the wolf asked. “That is some of the best eating.”
“My people will only eat the heart and liver,” Round said. “And I will leave those to you in return for this fine skin, which my mother will use to make me new furs.”
After the deer was cleaned, Round sliced off as many cuts of meat as he could carry. The wolf was amazed that the boy was leaving him all the bones, which the wolf considered a delicacy.
As Round walked back to his people, he heard the wolf howl behind him alerting others to a kill. Soon all the other wolves in Ma'iingan’s pack would arrive to share in his kill. Round wondered if they would notice that half the meat was gone.
At the camp Round was greeted like a hero. The meat he had brought in would feed the people for a week, even if the men found nothing.
The hunters returned the next day with only small game, and were amazed to find that there was a deer carcass being cured, along with steaks and stews that they could add their meager kills of rabbits and squirrels to. Roundstones, the young boy who had wanted to hunt with them, had amazingly gone out and killed a deer.
After the hunters fed on their first good meal in half a moon, Roundstone’s uncle, Running Hare, stood. “It is a tradition that boys of a certain age go out alone into the wild and come back with a kill, or at least the experience of a hunt. My late brother’s son is not of that age, although he will be soon. I declare that he has fulfilled his spirit journey, and thus be accorded status of a full warrior of the people.”
There was much discussion among the other warriors. Round was three years too young, and not fully grown, and many sizes too small. In a battle he would not be able to fight, some said. Others noted that he had brought down a deer, and fed the people, and that alone made him a man. The vote was close, and in the end the old chief announced that Round was a man.
“As his late father’s brother, I claim the right of naming Round with his adult name. I declare his new name to be Deerslayer. Do you approve?” Running Hare asked the boy.
Round thought carefully. To turn down a name would dishonor his uncle greatly, but he found it impossible to accept that name. “I would be called Wolf-friend, but still use the name Roundstones as well.”
A dark look flashed across his uncle’s face. The man stood, and there was anger in his voice. “Since the death of my brother eight winters ago I have cared for his wife and children. Wolf-friend” he sneered saying the name “is now a man, so I give him the responsibility for his mother and sister.”
“Please, uncle, do not be angered at me. I will take responsibility for my family, but it would hurt me greatly to lose your friendship and guidance. You have been like a father to me, and I do not dishonor you lightly. But can I tell you the story of why I must choose a different name?”
The uncle paused for a long time, and then sullenly nodded. The boy was at least being polite in spite of the snub. Then Roundstones went into his story about how he had met the wolf, and befriended him. When he finished, there were doubting faces around the circle. Never had the wolves been friends of the people, and most considered Round’s story a fantasy.
Looking around at the faces of the listeners, Round realized that his story was not being believed. So he whistled. He had sensed that Ma'iingan was nearby, and a few seconds later the wolf trotted into the camp and sat at Round’s side, causing the others in the band to gasp.
“I forgive your rejection of the name Deerslayer,” his uncle said. “You are right, it would be a dishonor to your friend here by not accepting the name you did.”
“Ma'iingan and I have made a vow,” Round said. “We will hunt together and share in our kills. The deer we all just ate was not a small one, like most of you suspected. It was actually large, but I only brought half home. Ma'iingan fed his people with the rest. I would like to suggest that we extend that vow to all our people, and all of his.”
“You gave away a half a deer?” the old chief rumbled.
“No, I shared it. Without Ma'iingan’s help, I would not have any deer. Nor would he. But together we were able to bring down a large animal and both peoples ate well.”
“You have been a man for 15 minutes, and you want to promote a treaty between the band and another. And wolves at that. I don’t know. What do others think?” the chief asked.
At first the idea was alien to the warriors, and they resisted the idea. Round had to argue hard to get them to come around to the idea that a treaty would be good for the people. He noted that there would be little lost in such an agreement. The people would not throw their spears at the wolves, and the wolves would not attack the people, even if some were young or alone. The distrust between the sides was strong, but in the end the chief called a vote, and most warriors agreed to try a treaty for a year.
“Ma'iingan has to leave now,” Round said. “He has to go and convince his pack to accept the treaty, and I think he will have a harder time than I did.” With that the wolf trotted off.
It was three days later, when the venison stocks were dwindling, that another hunting party was formed. Round was included this time, making the numbers 18, three of which were young boys, two a few years older than Round, and him as the third.
Two miles out, the party came upon a fork in the path, and the chief and hunting leader both said they should head east. Round paused. “Why don’t we go north,” he suggested, “since that is where the deer are. There is nothing larger than raccoons to the east.”
The chief was upset. The boy was getting on his nerves. “You go to the north then, since you are such a mighty hunter. The rest of us are going east. But if you fail to bring back a deer, then you will go hungry.”
“Thank you, wise leader,” Round said. “But I am small, and cannot carry much. I wouldn’t want to leave the wolves more than their share. Perhaps uncle can come with me?”
In the end, both Round’s uncle and a good friend split off with him. The friend was intrigued by the idea of using wolves in a hunt. After a few hours of walking, Round whistled, and Ma'iingan appeared, along with five other wolves. Apparently he had managed to get his pack to agree to the treaty. Round and the two other natives found suitable spots where they could hide from the deer, and the wolves spread out, soon finding several deer that they chased towards the men.
In time a group of about nine deer burst into the clearing, and quickly four were speared, two by Round, and one each by each of the others. The wolves burst in and started to tear into one of the carcasses, until Ma'iingan growled them away.
The people were quick to jump in and start to clean the animals, quickly gutting them and tossing the entrails away, so that the hungry wolves could enjoy a feast. Then they skinned the deer, and divided the meat up, leaving a fair share for the wolves, who started to howl to call the rest of the pack to the kill. The men took the hides, antlers, and their share of the meat and piled it onto a drag that they could take turns in pulling back to the band.
It was after dark when they returned, and the women were elated to see more food, since they had rationed the meals that day, not knowing if there would be more for the next day. To see a hunting party return so quickly was amazing.
The other hunters didn’t return for another two days, and when they did they had only raccoons and small game. They were amazed to find that Round had led the others to four kills. It was at this point that most of the other warriors understood that Roundstones was the hunting leader they needed, even if he was still young.
The band thrived that summer, always seeming to have food when needed as they wandered along their hunting grounds. At this time the people lived in small tents made of deerskin stretched over wooden poles, easy to set up and take down to move to a new location as the hunt required. The huts were small and flimsy, with room for only two people, or two and a small child. As children grew in both size and number a second hut would be made for them.
That fall Round led the band farther and farther from their traditional hunting grounds, eventually moving closer to the great water the people called Kitchi-gami. The band stopped a mile or two north of Kitchi-gami, far enough away from the cold winds that blew across the lake, instead camping in a clearing along a river that ran down to the lake.
The water in the river was cold: so cold that they could not wade across it, but had to find a beaver dam or fallen log to span it. A warrior slipping and falling in would immediately have to rush to the banks and clamber out, and then spend long hours before a fire to warm up. Round decided the band would spend the winter there, and move out in the spring.
One day when Roundstones returned from another successful hunt, he found his sister Red Flower on the riverbank dangling her feet in the river. He was amazed, because he could not keep his hands in the water for more than a few seconds, yet she seemed comfortable spending hours like that. “The river talks to me,” Flower said. “And it just told me something new.”
With that she took four or five of the younger children with her and they foraged through the fall underbrush, digging roots of different types. She brought the roots back, and washed the dirt off them in the river, then tossed many of them into the stew pot where the fresh meat was cooking. The older women squealed in horror. To them it was as if she had just thrown clumps of soil into the stew, ruining it. But Flower used all her influence as sister of Round to keep them from dumping the meal and starting over. After a half hour, the women tasted the mixture, and found that the roots had greatly changed the flavor of the stew, for the better.
Another half hour later, the entire tribe feasted on the stew, and all were amazed at the taste. The people had eaten roots before, but only when there was no other food from the hunts, and those roots tasted bitter and were hard to stomach. But cooked in a venison stew, these were delicious. Flower suddenly gained status in the band on her own right, and not just as the sister of the deer hunter.
The next time the hunters went out, Flower stopped Round first, and whispered in his ear. He looked at her in amazement at the request she made, and then nodded in agreement. While the hunters were away, Flower had many of the people in the woods cutting saplings and had a small stack of posts two fingers thick and most slightly taller than a grown man, although a few were twice that length. When the hunters returned with their kills, Round presented Flower with her request: the small intestines of all the animals killed.
Flower then started working with the intestines, after they had been cleaned in the river. She would have one child hold up a post, while another stood a distance away, and held up another. She had Round hold up a longer pole between the two. Flower then wrapped deer intestine around the ends of the poles. After a third post was added, with a cross pole, the structure could stand on its own, shakily. A fourth post, and the remaining two cross poles completed the structure.
“This is pretty, little sister,” Round said. “But it is too fragile to stand for long.”
“The river says it will,” she answered, “and I believe what the river says.”
She then went to work on her collection of deer hides, one of the largest in the band thanks to her brother’s hunting prowess. She punched holes in the edge of each hide, and then, when she had enough, she got the remaining intestines, and started lashing these hides to the sides of the structure to form walls.
She was doing this after a hearty dinner of venison and roots had been enjoyed, and the hunters sat at the fire, making bets on how many hides she would be able to attach before the structure fell. To their surprise, there was no winner, as she managed to place hides all around the spindly structure. They did laugh and suggest that in morning the entire thing would be in a pile on the ground.
The next morning Round rose early, and found that Flower had been sewing most of the night, with her feet in the river. She had joined many deerskins together, and insisted that Round get several men to throw it over the poles to create a roof.
“But the whole thing will fall down,” Round said. “I’m surprised it hasn’t fallen already.”
“Check it,” Flower said curtly, and Round went over to find that over night the deer gut had hardened and the entire structure was solid. He got several of the men, and with some work they managed to throw the top onto the lodge, which Flower said was called a wiigiwaam.
Flower showed them the door, and led Round and the three men inside. It was dark inside, of course, but as their eyes adjusted to the darkness, the men realized that it was a huge step up from the huts they slept in. There would be room for Round’s entire family in the wiigiwaam, his mother and his sister now, and several wives when he decided to take them. Many of the girls of the band were already flirting with the boy who seemed likely to be a future leader.
The entire band had to look into the wiigiwaam and more than one of the women had that look of “make me one of these” for their men. It had taken nearly all the gut from the last hunt to make the lodge, so new ones would have to wait for additional hunts. A list was made up, with the chief to get the second wiigiwaam, then Round’s uncle, and so on down the 18 families. Not all would be ready before the snows fell, but those who were in lodges by then would not face nearly as much bitter cold.
It was Flower who decreed that, after the snows, any children under the age of 12 whose parents did not have a wiigiwaam to sleep in would spend the nights in the existing ones, which greatly relieved the parents who were low on the list.
Storm Owl led his people south. The tribe was weak, and the young ones were dying for lack of food. It had been many weeks since the band had a good meal, with only the odd rabbit or squirrel caught by the hunters. Soon they all could be dying if they didn’t find food. There was another band in their territory, and it seemed that the deer were always near them, and not Storm’s people. Finally, the men of the band decided that they would challenge the intruders.
They were nearing those people. They had seen them on the other bank of the river for the past few days, but it was the River-that-cannot-be-crossed, so Storm had to lead his people up the river until they came to a crossing spot on a beaver dam. He had only 31 people in his band, 12 warriors, 10 women, and nine youngsters. Three other infants had died that year, and several others would soon unless they found food.
The other tribe was nearly twice as big, and they looked well fed. Storm decided that even a surprise attack would not work, and all his people could die. He decided instead to challenge the newcomers, and see if they would give up the territory, as unlikely as that was.
He called out when he saw people standing around four large huts, bigger than any Storm had ever seen before. The clearing quickly filled with men, all with spears in one or both hands, and Storm knew he was right that an attack would fail. Nevertheless, he blustered on.
“Newcomers,” he shouted. “You are on land that has been our territory since our people came here. We ask you to leave, to avoid bloodshed.”
The old man who appeared to be chief looked at Storm, and the ragged band behind him. He nodded to several of his hunters, who spread out to make sure that there were no others hiding in the bush. When those reported back with an all clear, the Chief spoke.
“This land was empty when we came here five weeks ago. We intend to stay the winter, if not longer. You may continue to hunt this territory if you like. We have found much food here.”
“Our people have not found such ample food,” Storm said. “I challenge for the territory. One champion for each band, fighting to the death. The losing band will be slaves of the other for two years.”
“I will be champion of the people,” a young boy, standing next to an even younger girl, chimed out.
The chief looked at the boy in annoyance. Round was always creating trouble. Now he was the most valuable member of the band, and not to be risked like this. But the chief realised that almost always the trouble Round created ended up to the benefit of the band. And to refuse him the right to represent the band after his rash claim would be insulting.
“I agree,” the chief said.
“What? You expect me to fight a mere boy? I see many warriors worthy to fight,” Storm said.
“Are you refusing my champion?” the chief said. “That would be a forfeit, and your band would become my slaves.”
“No. I will fight him,” Storm said. “Get your spear, boy.”
“I will fight with this,” Round said holding out the knife his grandfather had made. “But not yet. You, and your people are hungry. Our people have food, and will feed them, and you. I must visit the river while you eat.”
Round then walked to the river beside Flower. “It will work,” she said. “It will be cold for a second, then it will be nice.”
He entered the water, and found that after a few seconds the water was no longer so cold. He went deep into the river and then stood chest deep for several minutes. Eventually he dropped into the water, and did not rise again.
Storm did not see this, as he was greedily filling his stomach with food. Not only was the food abundant, something his people hadn’t experienced for months, but it was tasty, with bits of stuff in it that the new people called roots. He was careful not to overeat, since he still had to fight the boy. He was gaining confidence as the food fueled his depleted reserves. These people were doing everything wrong. He might yet live. And even if he lost, his people would thrive, since being slaves and eating well is better than starving.
He saw that while his band was eating, the young girl he had noticed earlier was taking the youngest children of his band into the river. She spent 15 or 20 minutes with each in the water, and when they came out they appeared healthy and robust, even the ones who had been nearly dead from starvation.
It was two hours later, and Storm was wondering when the fight would occur. He hadn’t seen the boy in hours, and wondered if he may have fled in shame. All the people were at the riverbank when the young girl came out with Storm’s own baby son, who had been near death an hour ago, but who now seemed vibrant and happy as his mother took him from the girl.
Then there was a splash from the river, several dozen yards down from where the girl had taken the children. It was the boy, Storm realized. How had he stayed under the water so long? A reed?
As the boy clambered out of the river and up the bank there was a gasp from both bands. Even Flower was amazed. Her brother was now six inches taller, bigger than all the other hunters in the band. He was also more muscular. “I am ready,” he said in a voice that was identical to before.
Storm was confused. The boy looked the same. An older brother, perhaps? It didn’t matter. If it was a ruse, it had worked. The members of the new people seemed as shocked as he was. He still had to fight, although his confidence was waning. But a spear against a knife still left him with a big advantage. Now it was just a bigger target for him to attack.
Round led Storm to a clearing ringed by trees. The men of the bands were able to watch from between the trees, and one side was left open so that the women and children could also see, from further back.
Storm thrust his spear, and found that he missed with each thrust as his opponent dodged. He hoped that the boy thought he would throw the spear, leaving him defenseless if he missed. But Storm held the spear, even though it was frustrating as the boy continually avoided his thrusts. After several minutes the boy attacked, darting in after a missed thrust and sliced his knife into Storm’s leg.
Only a superficial cut, Storm realized once the shock of being blooded passed. But for his next three thrusts, the boy darted in and wounded him again and again. He was now bleeding from both arms and both legs. They boy was playing with him, Storm realized, and finally fear filled his face.
He made one last thrust, and this time the boy didn’t just dodge, but rolled onto the spear, snapping it in half. He kicked out as he rolled, and Storm went down. The boy was on him in a second, and before Storm knew, Round was sitting on his hips, with one hand on his shoulder, and the other holding the knife high above his head.
Storm tried to wriggle free, but the grip on his shoulder was stronger than any he had ever known. He prayed to the maker as the knife started to descend towards his chest, moving faster and faster.
There was a slapping sound, and Storm was amazed to still be alive. The boy had turned the knife at the last second, slapping his chest rather than puncturing it.
“You are dead,” Round said. Storm nodded his agreement.
“You are reborn,” Round said, and rolled off his chest.
Storm struggled to his knees as Round stood. “I am your slave,” he said, grateful to be alive.
“No. You are a mighty warrior who risked his life so that his people could survive. That is not a life meant to end so soon. And, with the permission of the chief,” Round looked at the old man, “I declare that your people should join our people, not as slaves, but as full members.”
The chief frowned again, but nodded his agreement. The boy, although now it appeared that he was a man, was clearly going to be the next chief, whenever he wanted to replace the old man. The chief was not going to force that inevitable confrontation.
Storm looked around as Round helped him to his feet. A moment ago, he was near death. Now he and his people were full members of the band. Round had refused to accept Storm as slave, but the older man decided then and there that he would be Round’s man for the rest of his life
It was a week later when two hunting parties went out. The new members of the band were healthy again, and the two groups were mixed so that the new hunters could learn how to hunt with wolves.
Back at the camp, the wife of the chief was irate to discover that Flower had taken a deerskin from Round’s supply and cut it into little pieces. She had hoped to be able to appropriate those skins to finish her wiigiwaam.
When the hunters returned, Flower called Round into their wiigiwaam. She helped him into the garments she had made. Round was a bit hesitant to leave the wiigiwaam, but shyly stepped out. Immediately silence fell on the crowd as he stood in front of the people.
“On his legs are giboodiyegwaazon (pants),” Flower said. “They will be much warmer in the winter, so he can go hunting even in the snow.” Unlike furs, the deerskin was wrapped closely around his waist, and divided to enclose each leg tightly. “On his feet are makizins. They let him run or walk much faster than bare feet. When winter comes, I have another pattern that will go up over the giboodiyegwaazon, keeping the snow out. And instead of loose furs, his chest and arms are covered by a babagiwayaan (shirt). This allows him to throw his spear more easily, and keeps him warmer, since the cold cannot creep in as easily as with furs when you are mobile.”
“You can teach us to make these?” the chief’s wife said. “How do you come up with such ideas?”
“These come from the river,” Flower said. “The river is Manitou, who some here call the creator. Manitou has chosen us as her people, and we must protect the land, and the beings on it. It chose us because we have partnered with the wolves. We now are the keepers of this valley.”
“You will start with makizins,” she continued. “Hopefully we can have a pair for every hunter by the time the next hunt occurs. Before winter we will have to make the other garments. As well as building wiigiwaams. We will be busy.”
That evening a meeting of the warriors was called. One young boy, who had gone on his first hunt with the men, was thrust into the circle. It was one of the boys who had come with Storm.
“This one is no man,” one of Storm’s hunters said. “When it came time to skin and gut the deer we brought down, he threw up, and then pissed himself. And we don’t like the way he stares at us. We feel he is two-spirited.”
Round looked to Storm. “This was one of your men. How would you deal with this?”
“We ban him from the band, and if he comes back, he can be killed by anyone who sees him.”
Round thought for a minute, then called for Flower. “Here we will do it differently.”
With that Flower took the boy and led him to the river. “The river will decide how to deal with this,” Round said.
The men continued to talk for another two hours until Round heard Flower call out from the river. All the men rose, and with the rest of the band, they headed to the riverbank. A pile of furs lay on the bank, and Flower led a naked girl out of the water.
The men watching were in awe. The girl was beyond pretty, with long black hair to mid back, full, firm breasts, and a shapely figure. It was only when her shapely hips rose out of the water that the men gasped. In one particular area she was male.
And well endowed in that area as well, many of the women of the band noticed.
“This is Maia,” Flower announced, and many of the people were confused at the strange sounding name. “Maia is to be treated as a woman, and is one in all but one respect. The river has decided that she will be our healer, and has given her much knowledge of herbs, medicines, and salves. She is important to the people, and is to be treated with respect.”
“Where shall she live?” a woman asked.
“She will join our wiigiwaam,” Flower said. “She is not a wife of Roundstones, however. He is not yet ready to choose.” There was a groan of disappointment from several of the younger women. “Maia will have urges, but will only sleep with women who are past the age of childbearing.”
Once she had been dressed in borrowed furs Maia began immediately scouring the area, collecting herbs and roots. For a while many of the people were cold towards the new person, who really didn’t seem to fit into the normal structure of the band. But a half moon after the Longest Night celebrations this all changed. A hunting party had gone out in force to bring in more game for the pots after the celebration feast. At this time less than half of men were wearing the new deerskin clothing, with the others in furs. All had makizins by now, however. And Round, his uncle, and three others had a new oil treatment of their skins that the river had provided through Flower.
The weather changed halfway through the hunt. The temperature rose, and then the snow changed to rain, soaking all the hunters, but with those in furs suffering the most. Round and the other four who had skins treated with beaver oil were driest. Round abandoned the hunt with only one smallish deer taken, and by the time the men returned to camp, nine were very sick.
It was the water-nose illness, which was very uncomfortable but seldom fatal. However many times this illness progressed to the coughing illness, which killed over half those who got it. As soon as the men returned, Maia learned of the illness, and ordered all those afflicted into two wiigiwaams, with the regular occupants of those dwellings moving to other places. At this time about half of the people in the band were living in wiigiwaams, while the rest were in the older lean-to shelters.
Maia spent the next two days moving back and forth between the shelters, concocting a poultice that she smeared on the chests of the men, and another that was spread around the nostrils, preventing the chafing that resulted from water-nose. The result was that all nine men were cured within two suns, when it was more normal for the disease to last for a hand of suns. They were weak and sleepy for another day or two, but the water-nose was gone.
Unfortunately, three others in the band picked up the disease as the men were recovering, and one of the wiigiwaams was kept a little longer as a hospital. Also, the young son of one of the hunters also got the disease. These were treated as the others had been, with the difference that the boy of five winters was in Maia’s arms almost the entire two days. But all recovered, and it was considered a miracle that none got the coughing disease. From that time forth Maia was considered a valued and important member of the band, respected and honored by all. For over a hand of days she had not slept, treating the ill continually, only going to the river two or three times a day to refresh.
It was in early spring that the decision point came. The old chief started talking about packing up and moving back to the old hunting grounds. Round asked for a circle to discuss the move. At the circle he made an impassioned plea to have the band remain by the river. He pointed out that there was ample food in the area. The new wiigiwaams were bulky and would be hard to move. The band was much larger, and moving such a group would be difficult. The wolves liked the area, and were partners of the band.
The old chief responded simply with the argument that this is the way it has always been.
A show of hands around the circle showed that most of the men supported Round’s decision, with only a few of the older men backing the chief.
“This is it then,” the old chief said. “My time is past and I need to move aside to let the young bloods take over. I cede the chief position to Round, or whoever else may wish to claim it. My day is over.”
“No grandfather,” Round exclaimed. “Do not think that way. You have been a wonderful leader of the people, and should continue. You have always listened to the counsel of others, and accepted the will of the majority. You have much wisdom that I, and many others, have yet to gain. I ask you to remain as chief.”
The old man smiled at the compliments from the young man that he already had recognized as the new leader of the people. Now he was making the transition an honorable one. “No, my son,” he said. “It is time for me to make way for the young leaders. I personally nominate Round as the next chief of the people.”
All around the circle there were exclamations of support for the idea, but Round held up his hands. “I will not accept the position that belongs to our grandfather. I will accept a lower position of war chief. Not that I expect us to have to go to war, unless others try to take our land from us. You shall remain chief, and I will be war chief, under your counsel.”
The result pleased all. The men then went back to the women to tell them what had been decided. The women nodded sagely, having known what was going to happen before. Flower had already told them, passing on what the river had told her.
A week later Flower spoke to the men in their circle. She proposed a contest, to see which man was the most fit. The contest would have the men use a digging stick to break up the soil in a clearing. The men, bored between hunts, avidly adopted the contest, and the next morning Flower was at the site with five digging sticks. These were sticks that had a branch coming out, cut back but allowing a man to put his foot on the joint and force the stick into the ground. The man then twisted the stick, pulling it out and then moving to the next spot.
Flower made rules. There would be five men at a time competing. The holes had to be adjacent to each other, and sufficiently deep. A man could continue in his line as long as he was able, and then another man would take the stick and continue. Flower would declare the winner. If Flower found the lines too long, she would start another set of five.
The men lined up, with both Round and his uncle among the first five. At Flower’s word, they started to dig. The other men stood around and cheered, and all the women and children were also there to see the competition. Round and his uncle were the last of the original five still competing. One of the other rows was on its third warrior, and the other two were on their second. But Round and his uncle refused to give up before the other, until the uncle finally dropped to the ground. Round dug one more hole, then passed his stick on to another and also fell to the ground, exhausted.
The competition went on until the sun was well up in the sky, and most of the men had participated. Beartooth was the only one who had dug as much as Round and his uncle, and Flower claimed him to be the winner, not wanting to name a family member as champion.
The men headed off to their circle to discuss the competition, tired but enthused. Flower and four of her friends then went to the clearing with baskets of roots, cut into small pieces, and started to drop the pieces into the holes the men had turned out. Finally, they made a fence around the area from broken branches, and called it a garden.
In spring the wolves were birthing, and Flower took Maia to a she-wolf that Ma'iingan said was having problems. The river told Maia to prepare a salve, and she rubbed it onto the belly of the she-wolf, and it soon felt less pain, and eventually gave birth to nine cubs. One of the cubs was undersized, and was pushed aside by the others who latched onto their mother’s eight teats. Maia’s heart went out to the tiny cub. She too had once been the small, shunned one among her people.
Ma'iingan said that the cub would soon die, so Maia begged for the small being. The she-wolf assented. It was small payment for what Maia had done for her, and she was more concerned with her eight healthy cubs.
Maia took the tiny cub away with her, and chewed on a stick of dried venison until her saliva was rich with the meat juices. She then dribbled this into the mouth of the cub, who lapped it up. She continued this for days, and the cub thrived. She named him Pup, a small name for a small wolf. Pup never did grow as large as the other cubs, and did not play in their games of dominance, instead preferring to hide in Maia’s skirts. Soon the other cubs grew into adult wolves, but Pup remained half their size. The next year Maia sought out another runt, and raised him the same way. These two were the first dogs of the people, and co-existed with the wolves more as cousins than brothers. So long as the dogs never tried to dominate the wolves, they were let be, and became closer to the people then the wolves ever would be.
During the time when Maia was nursing Pup, Flower was given a new gift by the river. She hurriedly told Round, who was just as enthusiastic about the idea. There was a lot of trial and error in the process, but eventually Round had a branch of wood that had a piece of strong gut holding the two ends in an arc. Then, he could pull the gut and use it to propel a smaller stick, called a bikwak, away from him.
The other warriors laughed as the stick went five or six yards at first. But Round persisted, and made better bows, and used straighter sticks, eventually taking a tip from the river and attaching feathers to one end. Soon he could send a bikwak clear across the river. A spear could also be thrown that far, but not with much accuracy, but Round found that his bikwaks were much more accurate, and with practice would be deadly. Except that at that distance they had little power. He managed to hit a raccoon on the opposite bank of the river, and the bikwak just bounced off. The raccoon stared at him in annoyance, and them ambled away.
That was when Round went to Stoneman, the tribe toolmaker, and asked for a dozen small spearheads, so that he could attach these to his bikwaks. He had to demonstrate his bow and the pointless bikwaks. Stoneman immediately saw the power of the tool, and started to make bikwak points.
While Stoneman was working, Round continued to refine the tool. The other warriors were no longer teasing him, but started building their own bows and bikwaks. The weapon proved its use at the next hunt. Three of the hunters had bows, and bikwaks with points lashed to them with rabbit gut. Two deer were dropped with bikwaks without ever getting within spear range.
With the assistance of wolves it was a rare event for a hunt not to result in multiple deer being caught. But one such event happened, and a bedraggled group of hunters walked hungrily into camp one day, expecting to have nothing but roots to eat. Instead, they found a feast of fish on the fire, and joined in.
Flower had been quietly making baskets for the past half moon, and had finished up a new design given her by the river. She had placed five of the baskets in the river in various spots, and when she checked in the afternoon, she found two or three juicy trout in each one. The tribe had run out of venison several days before, and she decided to fry up the fish while waiting for the men to return.
It was the following day when the peace in the camp was shattered by a blood-curdling scream. The people all ran towards the sound, and discovered Stoneman, with his hand crushed between two huge pieces of flint. He continued to scream until he passed out from the pain.
All the warriors tried to lift the top stone, but it was too heavy. Then Flower appeared, with two branches a bit thicker than a warrior’s wrist. She had the men poke the branches into crevasses between the stones, and then put all their weight on the far ends of the branches. Slowly the top stone budged, and then was pried up enough that Stoneman’s hand could be removed.
The unconscious man was carried to the river, where Maia was waiting. He was laid on the healing space, where his flattened hand was able to rest in the water. Most of the tribe assumed that Stoneman would not survive, and if he did his smashed hand would never again wield a tool. This would be a huge loss to the band. The demand for bikwak points was so high that he had taken on two apprentice toolmakers, but they would not be able to take over yet.
But over the next two days Maia stayed in the river with his hand on her lap, and he slept on. On the third day he woke with a start, and pulled his hand from the water. It was whole again, and actually looked younger than the other one.
Maia wouldn’t let him return to his flint beds for two more days, as he regained his strength. When he did, he found the stone that had injured him, still with the two branches between the pieces. Flower explained what had happened, and the levers immediately enthralled Stoneman. He placed his apprentices on the two poles, and when the stone moved he started to have ideas. He got longer and thicker poles, and wedged them deeper into the crack, lifting the top stone higher.
Then he got brave, and placed a two-fist sized piece of granite between the stones, as far in as he could place it, risking his hand again.
“You know,” Flower said. “It would have been a lot smarter if you had used a stick to push that stone in. No need to risk flattening another hand. The river might not be so kind as to fix it when stupidity caused it, rather than accident.”
Stoneman looked at the girl, and then realized she was right, and gave a foolish grin. “So now we pull out the sticks,” he told his apprentices.
They did and nothing happened. The apprentices were sent to the top of the stone, and made to jump on either end, but still nothing, although the stone could be made to tip about on top of the granite rock, which amused the apprentices to no end.
“Well, we tried,” Stoneman said. “Let’s head off for lunch, and when we come back we will use the old method of bashing the stone with rocks to break it.
But when they did return from eating, they found that the flint stone had split into three on the rock, and the pieces could easily be pried up and again allowed to fall onto the granite stone. Sometimes it took five or six tries, but slowly the huge slab of granite was broken into pieces small enough for a man to carry, greatly increasing the productivity of the toolmakers.
Later that year Flower told Round that it was time that he take a wife. He had passed his birth time, so was now 13 winters old. Young for a warrior to marry, but he had the size of a grown man. Flower had noticed that many of the young girls in the band were refusing invitations from other warriors in hopes of landing the war chief. He grudgingly agreed, and Flower made an announcement to all the maidens of the band. The selection would take place at the river at dawn the next day.
There were 11 girls at the river the next morning, eager for the chance to be first wife of the war chief. Even some of the girls who were not yet blooded were there, and were allowed to participate. Flower led Round deep into the middle of the river, and then announced that the first girl to reach him would be his wife.
The girls leapt into the water and started towards him. Some even made it three steps into the river before the icy cold caused them to retreat to the banks. Soon there were only three girls moving towards him. Two were of his age, one was younger than Flower.
The river had warmed the water slightly for these three, who it found acceptable mates for the young man. But the water was still deathly cold, and it took determination for the girls to continue. But they all did. In the end it was the youngest girl who made it to him first, followed seconds later by the other two. Instantly the water around them warmed to a comfortable level.
“The river has chosen,” Flower announced. “Little Doe was first, but she is not of age yet. She will be accorded status as a wife, but will not mate with Round until she comes of age. She will be able to help care for the babies that will come from Dove and Birch soon. These two will share the duties of first wife. Neither will be above the other. The river seeks harmony, and if these two can work together, with Doe to join them eventually as an equal partner, then Round will have a blessed life.”
That night Round slept with both girls, moving between one and the other so that none of them knew which was impregnated first. A week later Maia announced that both of them carried his children.
As well, five other girls accepted warriors that evening, and three others by the end of the moon.
Two years later the old chief died, and again Round refused to take over the position of chief. Instead he insisted on his uncle taking the job. It would be 19 more years before the uncle died and Round was acclaimed the chief, with his eldest son (Dove’s) becoming war chief. Birch’s first child had been a girl, and had her choice of warrior boys to marry, eventually choosing one.
Ma'iingan had died long before, and after his death the partnership between the wolves and the people had slowly waned. The people still left small shares from their kills for the wolves, who no longer knew why they were honored in this way. After the death of Round, even this was discontinued.
Round had decreed that Ma'iingan should now be the word for wolf in Ojibwe, and the old word forgotten. Maia’s dogs were now predominant within the band, and most families had one or two.
By Manitou, as told to Mark Waters through the river.
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.