Copyright (c) 2015 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
It was a warm day for early spring. Flies buzzed in the air above the water. A harsh yell from a distance made the green frog with yellow spots jump just as Melania was about to grab it. She picked up and sent a large rock splashing into the water. How does madre know when I’m just about to gain a new pet? The five-year old grumbled as she left the small stagnant slough idling next to the Cottonmouth River. Melania slipped the ancient paper showing a lady seated in a corn field, with night on her right and day on her left, into a secret pocket in her apron. Why had the High Priestess card, borrowed from her mother’s magic recipe box, failed her? She was sure she had recited the Latin-words on the back of the Tarot correctly. The magic from the Ombré should have brought her a great adventure …or at least a new hopping pet. She wandered toward where the stern Pythonissam (witch) was taking down laundry from clothes-lines stretched between trees. Two Starlings flew from a tree behind her … and a twig snapped.
“Dove sei mia figlia mistica?” (Where are you my mystic daughter?) Jesska Descombey yelled again, this time louder, as she dropped a last armload of dry clothes into a full basket. “I ferri sono già caldi,” (The irons are already hot) … “Se avete fretta avrai ancora un'ora di gioco prima che faccia buio,” (If you hurry you’ll still have an hour of play before dark) she called.
Melania’s Italian-born mother made clothing, took in washing and did occasional ironing for most of the three-hundred euphoric miners who were panning gold from the streams. South Fork was the fastest growing town in Montana Territory. Four flat-irons and two crimpers glowed on a flat-top wood stove and were rotated twice for fancy cotton shirts. It was Saturday, April 17th. 1875. Thirty shirts would have to be ironed before noon. The new young sheriff, Thomas Lang, kept all three South Fork saloons from opening until after lunchtime. Lenis Hicks, looking to seize his share of the gold dust, had brought a wagon loaded with twelve Signore che dipingono i loro volti e danza (whores) from St. Louis the day before. The stove would need more wood. Her brother Parley was busy reading medical books; she hated to disturb him.
Melania was just tromping into a clearing. Smoke came from the roof of the cabin with the painted Gypsy Wagon parked beside it. Wind-burned hands that smelled of sweat and the spoiled fat from meat, grabbed her from behind, covered her mouth and dragged her kicking … back into the trees.
“Dove quella ragazza avrebbe potuto lei stessa a?” (Where could that girl have got herself off to?) Jesska muttered as she took off her wash-day apron. A flock of dark birds rose from the trees in the distance, never a good sign. “Probabilmente di fronte a un covo di Bobcat cercando di coassiale fuori i più piccoli,” (Probably in front of a Bobcat den trying to coax out the little ones) Jesska breathed a nervous sigh of exasperation as she thought about her daughter. She would have to find Mistico and bring her home. Mrs. Descombey knew no one who liked newborn critters as much as her youngest child.
Melania’s ears were still ringing from a blow to her head when she opened her eyes. Her arms and legs were lashed with strips of leather to the heaving belly of a running horse. The dark blue-ebony hair of the Indian leading her pony from the back of his spotted Appaloosa flashed in the sunlight as they splashed through a stream. He wore a buckskin scalp-shirt with beaded locks of human hair dangling from the chest and shoulders. Blue Cheyenne sky-god symbols decorated strips of wool cloth stitched to his arms. “Poor mother,” Melania moaned to the flies swarming around the sweating pony. “My body will never appear, and she’ll never stop looking.” Melania’s midsection bounced on the bony back of the animal as they climbed the river bank and made her feel like she was being cut in two with a dull knife. She closed her eyes and tried to die.
Her Indian abductor followed the river, taking care to remain hidden in the thick cottonwood and aspen groves that lined each bank. A half hour later, four Indian men and a boy who couldn’t have been much older than ten, met him in a clearing. A wild-eyed savage with blood lines smeared on both sides of his mouth, led a balking mule still wearing a wagon harness. Two still bleeding scalps hung from a torn flag wrapped around a spear. The poor creature following him was loaded with army rifles in a broken crate, various household goods and two bags of flour spattered with blood. “You were supposed to homátóhamé (steal horses)!” The Indian spat at Melania and then raised his contemptuous voice to her captor. “Does Running Wolf plan to ride this white squaw into battle against the blue soldiers?”
“The white man’s horses were too well guarded,” Running Wolf told Blood on Face. “A anonéhouáhe (white man) who comes will give many horses for her return.”
“The soldier’s wagon was easy to capture,” Blood on Face boasted. “I told He Who looks, Red Grass and Little Wind to watch from the hilltop.” He raised his lance in the air. “I will give these scalps to the village dogs … they are not worth hanging in front of my lodge!” Blood on Face looked at Melania and smiled as he pulled a glistening knife from a torn window-curtain he used as a belt. “There are many dogs … and this one’s hair is long!”
Red Grass forced his horse between Blood on Face and the pony Melania lay across. “The birds in the air circle this one,” he said pointing to the sky. A flock of geese on the horizon flew toward the south and then turned to the east. “The grass on the ground bends toward her.” A quiet pre-night breeze blew across the plains. “This one has vonáhéxame (sacred medicine). She must be brought to the Lodge of Spirits,” he ordered. “Máoxèé (red painted face) is a great warrior but I am the smoke guide who is sent by Tȟatȟaŋka Iyotȟaŋka (Sitting Bull).
Running Wolf untied his captive and let her drink from the river. He jammed a hard chunk of dry bear meat between her teeth before he rebound her. Melania felt like she had a rock in her mouth. “There is no time to rest,” he said “It is three days to Váohtamoóe máheónéstótse (the place of Godliness).
They followed the river upstream.
It was almost dark when Jesska finished searching the river bank. She found the place where her daughter had disappeared and followed moccasin prints to where two horses had departed. “Indians!” Jesska gasped. “They have my Mistico!” She gathered her skirts and ran toward the town. She hoped Sheriff Thomas Lang was in his office and not out chasing bandits. The sound of a piano playing in the Dead Horse Saloon brought tears to her eyes as she hurried down the dusty street. How could the world be happy when the love of her life was missing?
Six-hundred hide-covered teepees stood between the headwaters of the Missouri and Blackfoot Rivers. Multitudes of children ran alongside the horses and tugged on Melania’s hair as the Cheyenne War Party made its way through the lodges. Little Wind refused to acknowledge those he had played with a year earlier. To him they were invisible. He slapped them away with his braided leather reins. It was beneath warriors to glance at a child … now that he rode with men.
Tȟatȟaŋka Iyotȟaŋka’s son stood outside the lodge of the war chief. He cut Melania loose from the horse and led her inside the teepee. “My father has waited for you,” he said. Twenty warriors from diverse areas of the northwest sat in a circle inside the teepee including Medicine Crow a fierce enemy of the Sioux and Cheyenne. The Lakota Nations, and many other tribes, respected a strong enemy even more than a loyal friend. A warrior wearing a blue cavalry coat named Water Cow told Melania that he scouted for the army, in return for whiskey, and he would translate her words.
“You are said to be the child of a witch and can see the future?” Tȟatȟaŋka Iyotȟaŋka addressed her.
“My mother is a chiromante,” (fortune teller) Melania said. She was frightened but tried not to show it. Every face inside the tent was looking at her. “But also she makes white shirts.”
“Traders have come to our village many times,” Tȟatȟaŋka Iyotȟaŋka said. “They tell of the magic your mother makes.”
“Show us one of these ghost shirts,” Medicine Crow ordered.
Melania remembered the Ombré card hidden inside her apron. “I have none of my mother’s shirts … but this is where my mother’s magic comes from.” She held the card up and every face inside the teepee moved closer for a better view. “The words on the back must be spoken over and over,” she said.
“We would listen to these words,” Tȟatȟaŋka Iyotȟaŋka said.
“They are written in the language of my mother’s people,” Melania told them.
Water Cow looked at the cards. “Catholic Priests in Canada taught me Latin,” he said. “I can translate your words.”
Melania cleared her throat and read the card. Water Cow repeated the words in the common tongue.
“Tutto quello che vedete è magico.”
(Everything you see is magic)
"Guardare il mondo e ricordare le parti più piccole."
(Look at the world and remember the smallest parts.)
"Chiudi gli occhi e aggiungere quello che vuoi vedere."
(Close your eyes and add what you want to see)
"Apri gli occhi e guarda."
(Open your eyes and look)
"Chiudi gli occhi e immaginare."
(Close your eyes and imagine)
"Apri gli occhi e guarda."
(Open your eyes and look)
"Chiudi gli occhi e immaginare."
(Close your eyes and imagine)
"Quando si aprono gli occhi e vedere quello che vuoi..."
(When you open your eyes and see what you want …)
"Poi gli occhi chiusi vedono cosa è cambiato."
(Then your closed eyes see what has changed)
"Allora lo spirito è vicino".
(Then the spirit is near)
Tȟatȟaŋka Iyotȟaŋka (Sitting Bull) blade Melania to speak the words over and over. After an hour, the war chiefs inside the teepee recited the words along with the translator. They removed all beads and decorative markings from their shirts and cast them into the fire. Some rubbed urine on the skins to make them whiter. Hour after hour they chanted. Melania was asleep when dawn came and the circle of chiefs moved outside and circled a large fire.
Warriors from six-hundred teepees danced and chanted for three days. Young braves rode to other villages to say that the Ghost Dance had begun. Each day more Indians arrived. By the time it snowed, near the headwaters of the Missouri and Blackfoot Rivers, the lodges numbered more than a thousand.
Melania was with Little Wind catching fish from a hole in the river ice on Christmas Eve. They had explored the forest and the streams for more than a month. “You are superb with a lance,” Melania told him. Her breath made tiny clouds of steam in the frigid air. They had been by the river for two hours and the young warrior had speared three fish. “But I can show you an easier way.”
She took off a smooth deerskin wrap given to her by Tȟatȟaŋka Iyotȟaŋka and tied leather thongs to each corner. Little Wind pried a smooth stone from the frozen ground. Melania used it to weigh the center of the skin as she and the young Cheyenne warrior lowered it into the hole in the ice. She sprinkled grain seeds on the surface of the water.
A minute later, three fat trout flopped onto the bank when she and Little Wind pulled on the thongs.
“You are wise in the way of all things … not just magic!” Little wind smiled as he looked at her.
The sound of hundreds of dogs barking and the excited cries of children filled the air. Melania and Little Wind left the river to see what the commotion was.
A white man holding a rifle across his saddle and leading three horses rode into the camp ignoring the hundreds of braves that surrounded him. More than a dozen whooping young warriors rode close and touched him with their lances but he paid them no mind.
“A great white enemy from your people visits our village,” Little Wind said. Melania noticed sadness in his voice. “He shows no fear … so our Hotamókeeho (people) cannot make war against him lest our actions show we are afraid.”
They were close to the village. Melania recognized Thomas Lang the sheriff from her hometown of South Fork. He rode to Sitting Bull’s lodge and handed the reins to an Indian boy who appeared to be honored.
Tȟatȟaŋka Iyotȟaŋka appeared outside of his lodge scowling.
“I am here for the girl child,” Thomas Lang said in the Lakota language. “I bring these three horses as payment for her food and shelter.”
“This child is worth a thousand horses and much more,” Tȟatȟaŋka Iyotȟaŋka told him. “She is the sun that rises in the morning and the stars that cross the sky at night.”
“I thank you for sheltering her in your camp.” Lang told him. “These horses are a fair price.” He gestured for Melania to climb onto the horse behind him.
“You are a man of honor and I cannot fight you,” Sitting Bull said. Melania thought she noticed a tear in his eye.
Little Wind refused to make eye contact with her. He turned and ran toward the river.
As they left the village, hundreds of Indians performed the ghost dance again, chanting the words Melania had taught them in their own language.
“What is it they see?” Melania asked the sheriff as they rode past the last teepee.
“They see a great victory over the white man’s army in the spring,” the sheriff said.
“I feel sorry for the soldiers,” Melania told him.
“George Armstrong Custer is a Civil War hero and an accomplished cavalry commander from what I hear,” an astonished Thomas said. “Do you not worry about your new Indian friends?”
Melania thought she heard the voice of a boy crying near the river. She thought about Little Wind.
She touched the Ombré card hidden in her apron. “I think this time the battle will be different,” she said, “There is magic in everything.”