"It is because our enemy is there." Two Moons grunts, pointing at the trees the birds avoided.
"This I know. Ravens always linger for rewards," says Raven Claw, a short but fierce warrior. His narrow face tightens and his eyes squint into slivers.
In the thick of the dense pine forest, beneath the cawing ravens, a Cheyenne chief lies flat on his belly. Covered in the hide of a black bear, he remains perfectly still and completely hidden beneath the North Pacific ferns. His stone-colored eyes shift back and forth. He exhales gruffly. Beneath his hooked nose, his abnormally large jaw clenches. He tilts his broad face to the side; the right side is painted black and the left, white.
Will they charge us? Fox Thoughts, a seasoned warrior, signs as he gives away his camouflaged position.
If they knew where we were, Black Bear signs back.
All they would have to do is look beneath the cawing ravens, Fox Thoughts signs.
An elderly Kiowa medicine man steps in front of the Kiowa tribe. His face is painted red, with stripes of black. A yellow circle is painted around his right eye to show that he has the power of future sight. A pale moon is painted around his left eye so that he does not forget the past. His long silver hair is divided into two braids. Wire copper rings widen his earlobes. Around his wrinkled neck, he wears a bear-claw necklace. Beads mesh against the claws. Each color represents a spell, and he wonders, Which one will help the most and use the least magic? Gold wrist couplings gleam in the morning light. He clacks them three times, summoning his power. Fog will protect us, he thinks. His deerskin leggings and bone breastplate are woven with the scalps of his enemies. Not all are Indian; some are white people. By the length and curl, a few are obviously women's.
Brass bells and a human scalp hang from the handle of his wand. The tip is an eagle's claw with a round clear crystal firmly fixed in place. He raises his medicine wand and chants.
"PAHN-BAH-KHAW-BAH." The turquoise-encrusted handle begins to glow like blue lightning. The facets of the crystal ball illuminate his face and reflect in his pupils.
He raises his hands up and down, summoning a strong breeze that lifts loose silver strands of hair off his shoulders. The leather fringe in his worn bleached-white blouse rattles against his sides. His brown eyes gloss with a milky haze. Vapors rise from the earth. As he chants, the vapors turn into a thick fog and swirl around his firm frame. Soon the village is masked by the medicine man's magic. His wand glows like a lantern on a misty day. When his work is done, the light fades and a village that could be spotted by a sneaky enemy is now perfectly concealed in a smother as thick as a cloud.
In the pine forest, the sneaky enemy, Chief Black Bear, signs, Do not let their medicine man fool you; they are terrified.
Reflecting on this latest development, he's forced to reconsider his commitment to the raid. He scans the Kiowa village and admires their mind for war. The smoke screen conceals every living soul, and the barking dogs have cost him his most precious weapon, the element of surprise. Chief Black Bear pauses for a moment and wonders, Is their magic stronger than mine? He appraises the village, counting the tops of tepees poking out of the thick gray cloud.
Fifty tepees means fifty warriors—maybe more but probably less. The main body of their tribe is off hunting, Black Bear thinks. What is that to my hundred? His confidence surges, and he leans toward attack.
Gray Hawk approaches his father, Black Bear, and the two crouch together, conspiring.
"The warriors grow uneasy and want to return to camp," his son whispers. Gray Hawk, a younger and handsomer version of his father, wears a thick, bushy, dome-shaped war bonnet of gray hawk feathers. His face and muscular chest are painted black, with streaks of white.
Black Bear remains silent. He focuses intently on the stirring mist.
"Father, they sign 'bad magic' and fear for their scalps."
"Magic?" Black Bear says with a broad smile. "I have the greatest magic on earth!" He hammers his fist to his bone-plated chest armor.
The Kiowas' smoke stirs, the mist whirls, and the haze reveals a lone shadow. It is soon joined by another and another.
The numbers grow quickly, and Black Bear counts about fifty. The Kiowas' thunderous war cries make the tribe sound like hundreds, maybe even a thousand warriors. The Cheyenne chief wonders if his hundred warriors are enough for this fight.
If we leave, the warriors will lose respect for me. Surely one will challenge me. But if we fight...He steadies his heart rate, closes his eyes, and seeks vision. His eyes flutter as he searches for an answer. He knows this is the most critical piece of information any chief can ascertain before waging an attack. How many warriors do I face?
"Listen! Listen to your chief! Take courage! Like all of you, my heart had doubts. They blew in just now, but I have just been told by our war god, Hotamintanio, to purge our hearts of doubt and fear. Give ear to my words. In my vision Hotamintanio says the main tribe is farther north chasing buffalo. We found their tracks and followed them back here, did we not?"
A few men nod.
"Hotamintanio says no more than fifty Kiowa are in that village and if we leave, their horses and scalps will not be ours. He says to light a fire of wrath in your hearts. It is our right to raid. RAID NOW! Take from them their women, their horses, and their scalps, even their children. Make our tribe rich! Do you want to offend our god?"
The men look around, their doubting expressions mirrored all around them.
A warrior with arms as big as boulders speaks up. "I have two troubles that lean me toward leaving. Your first vision said this would be the fight to end all the Kiowa. This isn't one fight, but now two. My second trouble is with your magic. It made sense when we could stalk them, easily kill them in their sleep, and take all the spoils you promised us. How can your magic be believed now that they are awake and ready to give us a good fight? The spoils should already be in our hands. We have much to lose. Women. Children. Horses. Scalps. I say my scalp is better fixed to my head. I say it is better to kill and scalp you than take these risks."
Gray Hawk steps forward and speaks over his father in a hushed voice with outstretched hands. "You cannot threaten my father, Boulder Arms. Your strength will feed your family. But my father has told me something he has not yet told you. Listen to him now before your heart fails you."
The warriors' long, painted faces turn toward Chief Black Bear.
"If you leave this war party, you make peace. The Kiowa will use your peaceful kindness against you. They will make more children. We will fight again— you know this to be true. If we fight now, we take their peace from them. Do you so easily forget your hatred for what the Kiowa have done to our people? Do you forget the hell they made for us on their last raid? I say we make a hell for them. Let their women be your wives! Make their children your slaves. Imagine if our women and children never had to dress an animal or gather firewood. Our days would be made easier by the hell we make for them today."
Chief Black Bear's speech is incredibly effective. "Their horses will be yours. Boulder Arms, you can pick first of everything we take!"
This brings many agreeable nods.
Boulder Arms still isn't convinced.
As Black Bear gains steady support, his eyes flash with excitement. He raises his voice, but not loud enough to be heard by the Kiowa. "Think of the glory that will be ours. Their scalps will rest on the arms of our women, who will dance with them, singing, 'Look, here is my enemy who cursed me. What has become of him now?' Which of you would not want this honor?"
The warriors raise their weapons and celebrate with growing approval— everyone except Boulder Arms.
"I see that you do not support me, Boulder Arms, and you have challenged my magic. That is good! Who can say magic is this or that without seeing it with their own eyes?"
Boulder Arms nods with a deep, questioning frown.
A message to the reader: Magic. War. What more could you ask for? I'm being serious, what if anything would you want? Do you want? Should you want? I hope you aren't left wanting. In the event you are, Amazon has the book. 'Harvest Moon," by Zachary Berger. Also, Insta holds a couple hundred photos. Harvest moon official.
YOU ARE READING
Kiowa and Anoki lock hands and stare into each other's eyes. They listen intently to Onendah, the medicine man, officiate their wedding. "Yours is a forbidden love. Because you are from a war tribe, Kiowa, your people will not let you marry this pea...