By R. John Quisenberry
Once, in the time of the first people, a young man from a small tribe was hunting. His family needed meat badly. Just as he drew back his bow to shoot an arrow into a fat and juicy rabbit, a voice behind him startled him. “Please spare her,” it said.
The arrow went wide of the rabbit and broke on a rock. The young man then saw four baby rabbits follow their mother from their hole and out of sight in the bushes. “They would have starved without her.” the stranger explained.
Turning, the young man found a silver-haired man standing behind him in well-worn buckskins decorated with fine beads depicting Corn Woman, Coyote, and the Thunderbird. His deerskin shirt and pants were well worn but finely made. “Thank you for keeping me from killing their mother. I would not want the young to suffer, but now my own family will go hungry.”
“You may use my net if you like. The stream near here has much fish in it.”
“That is kind of you grandfather. My own net snagged on a rock yesterday and I had to leave it in the lake.”
The older man handed him the neatly folded net and they went to the stream. Soon, the young man had twenty-four fish of good size.
“You have many fish now. How will you get them all home?”
“Would you like some of them? After all, it was your net. Would you take half?”
“I could never eat so many. Maybe some of my friends and I can trade with you for them.”
“That sounds fine,” said the young man. “Where do we meet them?”
“They are here.” said the old man as three figures stepped into the clearing. “Coyote, what do you offer the young man for his fine fish?”
“I would offer insight and courage to be shared with his descendants,” answered Coyote with a sly grin. The glint in his grey eyes as he pushed back his long, dark hair spoke of mischief.
“Corn maiden, what would you trade?”
“I offer seeds of sacred corn to protect his life and that of his family.” said the slender woman in spotless, white deerskins.
“Great Thunderbird, what do you offer this brave young man?”
The Thunderbird tipped back its great head and uttered a terrifying cry like that of a hunting eagle swooping down on its prey. as it lowered its head once more, small sparks of lightning coursed over the metallic sheen of its dark feathers.
“Great Thunderbird offers to take some of your death from you and certain of your descendants. He also offers the protection of one of his feathers to you and select descendants.” said the old man. The Thunderbird nodded once as the young man looked at him. “And I,” said the old man, “Alion Teyuse, offer a small fragment of the ridge pole of the lodge of the world.
“Do you accept our trades?”
Beginning to understand his delicate situation, he replied, “I am honored by your offers, but this good grandfather loaned me his net to catch the fish, so the debt is to him.”
The old man chuckled then and said, “Do you not recognize your own net? I found it floating in the shallows near the village. Something must have dislodged it from its snag. I have merely returned it.”
Knowing he was trapped into accepting the gifts of these great beings, he bowed his head. “I am honored by your offers. Please enjoy the fish.”
Each of the four came forward and selected three fish. The Thunderbird swallowed his whole. The other three produced sacks and placed the fish in them.
Corn Maiden gracefully swayed to the young man and gave him a deerskin sack. Inside the sack were kernels of seed corn. They were perfectly formed and glossy silver. “These are the seeds of greatness. Each chosen family member is to eat only one seed. One day, your offspring may need to share the sacred silver corn outside of the family. Until that time, keep it from all others.”
“Thank you. I will protect your gift and pass it to my children.” Corn Maiden smiled at him, placed a kernel of the sacred corn in his mouth, and walked smoothly into the gathering dark of the forest. He swallowed nervously.
Stepping up to the young man, Coyote smiled kindly at him and cuffed him in the side of the head. A red mark faded into being on the man’s chest. “You are now marked as the first who shall be called by the name Warfeather. You will always understand things in a unique way shared by few. Good luck cousin!” As Coyote walked off into the forest, the man realized that all of the beings tricking him were doing so for his and his tribe’s benefit.
Great Thunderbird and Alion stepped forward. Reaching back with her harshly curved beak, Thunderbird pulled out one of her splendid feathers and cast it down before her. Alion spoke, “You must touch my trade first, then take the feather. It will become a light and powerful weapon. Each time the mark shows up in your family, that one shall touch my gift, eat the sacred corn, and be given a feather. When a special Warfeather comes to maturity and is given two feathers instead of one, that one will be the one to share the corn outside of the family.” stepping forward, he handed the young man a sack made of buffalo skin. Opening the sack, the brave young man grasped a large stone and pulled it out of the bag. The stone was a deep, vibrant green like the waters of a fertile stream filled with life. Its entirety was shot through with veins of gleaming silver. He could feel something flow from the stone and into his body.
Next, he reached down and grasped the feather. As soon as his hand touched it, the feather melted into the shape of a huge hunting knife. He marveled at its incredible lightness. It seemed to weigh almost nothing, but it seemed to be sharper than any blade he had ever seen.
“Be careful and responsible with what you have gained. You will not always need to be involved in the problems faced by your world, but remember that you are now a member of all tribes, even the strange ones who will come from across the great waters. Be loyal to all tribes. There will come those who are not of the tribes that belong on any land here or across the water. Fight them where you must to preserve all tribes. You may call me The Old Man of the Mountain. You and your family will see me from time to time.