Retreat (Robledo Mountain #3)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
... Four stones were heated by the fire inside the sweathouse ... The others sang songs of healing on the outside, until it was time for the sweat to be finished...
~ Excerpt from Apache Creation Story ~
The tired shaman straightened as he exited the wickiup, glad to be out in the fresh evening air. The worry etched deeply into every line on his face was all-encompassing as he stared off into the distance.
Four times he’d failed. Four, a powerful number; he couldn’t, wouldn’t, fail a fifth time.
He’d had an extraordinary number of visions in the last handful of years. A long, glorious string of visions, that had proved to be accurate. More than in all the previous years combined. He thought he’d been blessed. Instead, he’d learned he’d been cursed. Perhaps Raven, the great trickster, was behind these last four visions. Regardless, instead of assisting his people with spirit contact, he’d hurt them.
He’d counseled for a large raid on a white man’s town. He’d been assured of a large victory, succeeding where so many others had failed, with few losses among his warriors. The victory would be the beginning of the death knell for white men in Apacheria.
Instead of victory, his warriors had been decimated with nothing to show for the effort and loss. The hated white man only increased his numbers as more and more arrived to stake out the land so precious to his group; Failure Number One.
To make up for that failure he’d been given a vision of a great victory against the most hated of his people’s enemies, the Navajo. That vision too proved to have been false, as again his warriors were decimated with nothing in return except the death wails of the women; Failure Number Two.
He’d been warned during a vision in the sweathouse over a year ago that his future and that of his family lay in the North. He’d convinced his leader of this even after a lengthy visit to a promising area in the South. He now knew his vision had been wrong; Failure Number Three.
The last failure was the most immediately dangerous for his people by far. He’d missed all the warning signs, signs which every shaman was trained from youth to recognize; yet, he’d missed them. And because he missed them, the leader of his people was now dead. He went to sleep last night an apparently healthy man, an old man to be sure, but healthy enough. The leader died in his sleep without a sound. If he’d been paying more attention, instead of worrying about failures, he could have interceded with the spirit world before it was too late and likely the leader would still be alive; Failure Number Four.
Four! A powerful number indeed.
He came out of his reverie to find his apprentice standing in front of him looking at him with concern.
Ignoring his apprentice, he stalked to the sweathouse still deep in thought. Removing his clothes, he entered the small hut, immediately breaking into a heavy sweat from the cloying heat and humidity.
As he settled himself, he hoped the spirits would hear his prayers for counsel and bless him with a visit. Without a thought to the activity going on outside the sweathouse, he took a deep steadying breath and began the focus chant.
Almost immediately he felt himself enter the serene peaceful existence of the spirit world. A world he well knew from his previous visions. This time though there were differences from the previous visits he could remember. Subtle differences, most of which he couldn’t quite put his fingers on, but they were there.
The difference he could identify was the ease with which he’d entered. He couldn’t remember a faster or smoother transition from the world of man, to the world of the spirits. He pondered this for some time before becoming aware of nebulous presence nearing him.
Suddenly, the presence blossomed into a young maiden sitting before him.
“I am Girl-Without-Parents. I have heard your call and am here to provide counsel if you would listen,” she said mildly yet her lips never moved.
“You honor me with your presence,” the shaman replied. “I am confused, and in need of counsel which only the spirits can provide.”
“What has you confused?” she asked pensively, almost as if afraid of the answer.
“Four times the visions I was given were wrong. Wrong for me, wrong for my family, wrong for my people.” With an imploring look, he continued, “I would know what I have done to bring such bad visions from the spirit world; and, more importantly, what I need to do to regain your favor. My people won’t survive another bad vision.”
“I will help if I can, of course, but only the Creator knows all. So, tell me of these visions, and the results,” she said solemnly.
He lost track of time, even more than usual, as he recounted the visions he’d had, his actions, and the results. Girl-Without-Parents listened patiently, outwardly calm, but with an inner anger that grew with each vision and results, the shaman told her of.
They’d been sitting in silence after he finished as she reined in her anger sufficiently to begin giving counsel when they both felt a shift in the spirit fabric.
With that shift, her anger was gone, replaced by sadness.
She answered his unspoken question. “That was your mentor, your teacher, leaving the realm of man for the spirit world and the Land of Ever Summer.”
The shaman gave out a great sigh of loss. In all his years he’d only gone against his teacher once. And that one time was counseling his people to move North instead of staying in the South as his teacher had advised. He should have listened to his teacher.
“Yes, you should have listened to him,” Girl-Without-Parents said as if reading his mind. “The four visions you seek counsel on were all from a spirit with evil intent. Whether it was the trickster or one of the others, I can’t tell. What I can tell you is that you need to lead your people South and rejoin this branch of the family to the Southern branch, making the family whole once again as your teacher asked.”
“This I will do as swiftly as possible after preparations are made,” he promised.
“You will find another student awaiting you there. Not an apprentice but a student. That student will tell you of their need and you will strive to teach them what they seek,” she commanded.
Before he could reply the presence began to rapidly fade.
“My time with you is done,” she said as her form vanished. Her final words settled heavily on him in the still air of the sweathouse. “One last thing, listen to the counsel of your brother. If you have concerns discuss them with him and take heed of his words.”
With a heavy sigh, he gathered his thoughts examining everything Girl-Without-Parents had said during his discussion.
Hours - which seemed like minutes - later, Nantan, Shaman, and now leader, of the Northern Garcia Apache, left the sweat lodge. Tiredly, he directed his apprentice to spread the word. His people were to be ready to leave first thing in the morning. They had a long trip South to make.