THE PATH Part 15

At last, as the horizon grew bright before the coming of Wakanti, Pa’haana rolled from beneath his blankets. He started the morning’s fire out in front of the lodge—no reason to awaken his Aunt this early—then went down to the stream at the south end of the village to gather the day’s water. There he unwrapped himself from his blanket and bathed before Wakanti rose over the eastern hills. The cold water caused his skin to gooseflesh but also invigorated him, washed away the soreness in his limbs from his lack of sleep.

Pa’haana returned to the lodge and dressed. Others in the village were awake now; some had not slept at all. Sentries at the four corners of the village leaned on their spears, tired from their pacing. The mourners began to sing for those taken during the night. At least T’cho will not depart on his final journey alone, Pa’haana mused, frowning at his private joke.

The singing must have awakened Aunt. She lifted the door flap and stepped out of the lodge, wrapped in her blankets, rubbing her eyes. “Unbraid your hair,” she directed, “and I will comb it. You must look well this morning when you stand before the Chief.”

Pa’haana sat down on the rug before the fire. His scarlet braids as he sat fell to his waist. Aunt took her comb—she had fashioned it herself, long ago, of fish bone—and brushed out Pa’haana’s hair until it was smooth. “I will plait your hair with sweetgrass and seashells, and will tie it in three braids,” she said. The seashells were a reminder to the True People that their ancestors had crossed the Great Ocean in the days when the world was young, following Wakanti as he traveled across the sky. Some stories said that the True People walked across on a bridge made of ice, others that they came in many canoes. Pa’haana suspected that both were true.

The sweet grass constituted a prayer to Wakanti, for protection. The three long braids, two worn over the shoulders and chest and one down the back, were a sign of penitence for committed wrongs.

“I am sorry, Aunt,” Pa’haana said as she worked at his hair. “When I am banished, you will have no one to help you carry wood or water.”

“Shush,” Aunt said. “You have done me no wrong, so offer me none of your apologies.” The words were strong. Pa’haana expected no less.

She had been the aunt of his mother, the mother they had pulled dead from a hole in the ground, her newborn son suckling at her cold breast. Or so Pa’haana had heard. He preferred to believe the last part of the story to be a lie. In any case, his aunt and uncle had taken him into their lodge despite their old age, and had never shown him naught but kindness.

“I will not see you again, Aunt,” Pa’haana said.

“Shush,” the old woman said. “Nothing is certain yet.”

“Exiles do not long survive,” Pa’haana said.

“You are but a boy,” she said.

“I am no boy.”

“You have many years ahead,” Aunt said. “You are not old, like me.”

“You were always a good mother, old or not,” Pa’haana stood. He clasped the woman’s hand with his own as she plaited his hair. “I am sorry that I was not a better son.”

The old woman’s chin trembled, then she bit down to settle it. “I may yet be proud of you, my child,” she said. She hesitated before speaking again. Her eyes were wet. “May Wakanti light your path.”

Categorized as darkness

By The Evil Cheezman

Purveyor of sacred truths and purloined letters; literary acrobat; spiritual godson of Edgar Allan Poe, P.T. Barnum, and Ed Wood; WAYNE MILLER is the head architect of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS, serving up the finest in entertainment and edification for the stage, the page, and the twain screens, silver and computer. He is the axe-murderer who once met Andy Griffith.

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