dontravis.com blog post #610
Apparently no one’s worried about AI in the future of creative arts other than me and SAG (AI protection is one of their demands in their strike). No responses from readers.
Oh, well, we’ll proceed to this week’s business. My buddy Don Morgan in nearing the end of a major revision of his Enovel The Eagle’s Claw, and wants some reader reaction before he seeks commercial publication. He’s asked me to give him the next two weeks for guest posts.
Prior to this, we’ve seen the Prologue, Chapters 1 and 2 some time back. To ground the reader, the novel is the story of Román Otero (personal name Roan Orphan), a young mixed-blood Apache who lives with Cane-Woman, his grandmother who is believed to be a witch) on the fictional Edge of Mountain Reservation in southern New Mexico. He helps rescue the son of owner of the ranch lying just north of the rez, and is now experiencing the push and pull of the two different worlds he represents. Here’s Chapter 3.
THE EAGLE’S CLAW
By Donald T. Morgan
The moon, a mammoth pearl suspended above the rounded breast of the dark mountains, washed the desert a delicate silver. A breeze sharpened the night air. The mare plodded along the trail home. Busy reliving the last few hours, Román was oblivious to the high desert chill and his rumbling belly.
When he’d found the Indah boy in the arroyo, he’d looked and listened and left without making a sound. A white stranger wasn’t any of his business. Shouldn’t even have been on the reservation. Yet Román had led the paint north to the white house with a red top and faced the rancher like a man, despite the thunderous pounding of his heart and a dry, raspy throat.
The huge house looked as gloomy as a cavern, but he’d liked the cars and fine horses. The yellow-haired woman was pretty, even if she was as pale as a mountain aspen. The little girl had been dark-haired like the tall rancher man.
The old mare entered a clearing in the evergreen forest well beyond other encampments and halted beside a shapeless gowa, what some called a wickiup.
Román discovered the white man’s forgotten flashlight looped around his wrist by a leather strap as he hobbled the mare. He was delivering a stern warning against wandering too far when the mournful cry of a whippoorwill sent ripples up his back. Evil birds, whippoorwills. Fooled around in the night too much. His backside puckered when an owl hooted from the tree above him. Remembering there’d been a death in the village two days ago, he swallowed his lecture and scampered through the flap of the wickiup.
His grandmother sat on a blanket beside the fire pit, her black, knobby cane in her lap. “Better get in here, Roan Orphan. He-Who-Left-Us is fighting hard to come back. Real hard.”
He noted she’d used the personal name she gave him at birth and grunted. A grunt was a useful thing. A listener made one thing of it while sometimes the grunter meant another. Román removed a small cottontail leg from a chest and settled on the blanket. His grandmother eyed the flashlight hanging from his wrist but said nothing.
She had another name, a Spanish one… Tonia Otero. But no one on the reservation called her anything but Cane-Woman. He tried to calculate how old she was. The People had been penned up with their Mescalero cousins and Navajo enemies at the Round Grove years and years and years ago. The old woman had been born on the banks of the Rio Pecos during that bad time. Or that’s what she claimed.
She might look like a parchment-covered mummy with thinning white hair and a mouthful of gums, but he wasn’t fooled. She could still raise a dust devil when she wanted to. Acrid smoke from coals in the fire pit made his nose itch.
Her rheumy eyes, almost hidden by a web of deep wrinkles, rested on him as she steadied the stem of a corncob pipe. “You go hunting today? We gonna eat tomorrow?”
She stared at him so hard he considered going back outside to face the owls and whippoorwills. “I was hunting. But I heard someone yelling for help.” He was soon lost in the telling of his adventure while the old woman listened without moving, except to pull on her pipe. When she finally spoke, it was in her own tongue.
“The Indah rancher scooped out your brains and stole what little sense you had. Tell me where that white boy’s pony fell down. We’ll go fetch it tomorrow. Then you go to that rancher’s house, ’cause he’ll pay you for what you done.”
“Don’t wanna go back.” That sounded suspiciously like rebellion. He shivered. He knew better than to fool around with Cane-Woman, but sometimes he forgot and did it anyway.
“He steal your ears like he done your brains? Do like I say. Go get paid.”
He laid the flashlight on the blanket and claimed he’d already been paid. She made a wet noise with her lips. “That ain’t nothing. He’ll pay you better’n that. Money, most likely. That’s the way they pay for everything.”
“The paper kind?” He’d had coins before, but never bills. Worth a lot of coins.
“What you done was big enough for paper money. Big enough for more’n that, but the white man won’t know no better.”
“Wish he’d give me a rifle. Then I could really hunt.” His mind made other connections. “My father was white, wasn’t he?” Ignoring her sharp look, he persisted. “Tell me about him and my mother. Tell me about the rodeo….” His voice died as the old woman hissed.
“Don’t talk about them that’s forgot. Not tonight. Not after the owls.”
He snorted even as his resolve melted away.
Cane-Woman’s flesh darkened. Veins bulged in her forehead. “Don’t make rude noises, boy. I know things you ain’t gonna learn at that school where you go waste your time.”
He wasn’t afraid of her physically. It was the other thing that put the fear-smell on him. The witch thing. Big Tom Bearclaw claimed those with the Power paid for it with human sacrifice. She had no life to give except her own—or his. He, alone, Cane-Woman called kin, and Big Tom said she’d give him to Eagle one day. Most of the time Román didn’t think about such things, but at moments like this… he wasn’t so sure.
But if Eagle gave her power, why did they go hungry and live in a camp of outcasts? Big Tom in the tipi across the clearing was a peyote shaman who’d stolen the power from another medicine man. Even though the People had avoided him like the pox for years, Tom always knew what was going on in the settlement. Was that witchcraft too?
A crippled-up old man and his wife lived in the little house south of the tipi. Some said the old goat was a bad witch whose medicine arrows got shot back at him. That’s why he was twisted and his woman messed up in the head.
Cane-Woman’s voice startled him. “She-Who-Was-My-Daughter’s gone away. Taken by a devil horse. That’s all you gotta know.” She always avoided speaking directly of her dead offspring. “Go see the rancher man tomorrow. Then don’t go there no more. He-Who-Was-Your-Pa didn’t find no happiness here. And you ain’t gonna find none in the white man’s house.”
He blinked. “I don’t even know the rancher man’s name.”
“Chandler. Name’s Chandler.”
She snatched up the flashlight and made him show her how to turn it on. Waving it in front of her, she spread fresh ashes around the edges of the wickiup and laid sage across the doorway to strengthen protection against ashee… ghosts.
Relieved the storm had passed so easily, Román finished the rabbit leg, flipped the bone into the fire, and carefully wiped greasy hands on his trousers before stretching out on his blankets. Slipping away into sleep, he barely heard her shaky voice.
“This here’s a right fine light. Expect I’ll keep it.”
Then he descended into a restless, unsettling dream.
So the push-pull now begins on this ten-year-old boy whose exposure to the white man has heretofore been limited to teachers on the reservation school. The fact his grandmother lives so much in the past doesn’t help… not to mention she’s widely regarded and feared as a witch.
Please let Don know what you think.
Stay safe and stay strong.
Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it!
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