The golden lance leaves an ambient trail as it streaks through the sky, then disappears when it passes through Black Bear's shield.
Kiowa doesn't flinch. He doesn't run from the attack. He closes his eyes and trusts in his magic.
When nothing happens in that infinite second, he opens his eyes and sees the jagged tip of Black Bear's spear shift from his nose and dip past his chest. Kiowa's skin prickles when he feels the feathers brush past him. The spear penetrates the ground and throttles back and forth. A tingling sensation washes over him. For a moment he thinks he's passed into the next world. He rapidly blinks, expecting to see his father on a white horse, bringing another white horse for him. Instead, he sees none of that. Things are as they were, except Black Bear's body hunches over on his horse.
The hole in Black Bear's shield burns with orange embers where the lance passed clean through. As the horse continues through him, Kiowa can see the gleaming shaft poking out of his enemy's crimson back. The chief's nerves jolt as the horse walks back and forth.
"Today..." Kiowa exhales with a short breath.
Makes Trouble sees red blood spread in a perfect circle. The mighty villain's slumped body tumbles off his horse, making a terrible thump as it collides with the earth. "AHHH HOOO!" Make's Trouble cries, raising his bow above his head. He nocks an arrow and aims at the weary Cheyenne approaching, then fires. The warriors slow and turn their horses about, calling for their chief as the animals call for one another.
Kiowa walks over to greet the face responsible for all of his sorrow. When he sees the glaze of death in Black Bear's hollow eyes, which were once cold and calculating, he can't hold back his excitement. "Ah-hoe!" he shouts.
"AHHH HOOO!" Paw cries, unsheathing his scalping knife.
Kiowa kneels down and unties Black Bear's headdress. "Today you guided my hands, Father. You gave me strength I never knew I had. Thank you for today!"
Kiowa places one foot on Black Bear's chest, then forcefully rips the golden lance from his lifeless body. He looks at the Cheyenne braves, who keep a safe distance away.
"AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!" Kiowa screams, lifting the bloody golden lance above his head.
The lingering Cheyenne take flight, while the blood of his enemy streams off the weapon and down Kiowa's arm. The men stop to retrieve their wounded, then speed across the plain, letting their dusty trail rest on their dead.
As the adrenaline begins to wear off, Kiowa realizes what he's just done. His knees buckle and his hands tremble. Fear and a great sense of satisfaction overpower him. The competing emotions cause tears to well in his eyes as the full impact of his kill settles like sand in his muddy mind. He looks at Black Bear's war bonnet and tries to steady his trembling hands as he wonders which feather represents his father.
Makes Trouble goes to comfort his friend, but Paw takes him by the arm. He leads Makes Trouble away and points to the fallen buffalo and the fleeing Cheyenne.
"Now you see wisdom. They hunt buffalo; we hunt them. They kill buffalo; we kill them. Now we keep the buffalo and take their scalps! Best of all, we did no harm to the white buffalo. She is free to return to the heavens. Today we are the men who treated her with respect, and she has rewarded us for it. Look here. Are we not the victors?" Paw tilts the gleaming blade of his scalping knife.
"Do you want the honor?" Paw offers Kiowa his knife.
Kiowa shakes his head. "I've never taken a scalp. I wouldn't know what to do. This lance and the headdress are all the trophies I need."
Paw moves over to Black Bear, grips the handle tightly, and kneels down. He wraps his hand around Black Bear's hair back and pulls taut. "Cut behind the ear first."
He thrusts the tip of the blade in and goes to work. "I broke my promise to you, my great enemy. I swore that it would be me who freed your spirit from your body. But today Lone Wolf's son has killed your body. I will keep my promise now. I will be the one to take your scalp. And Onendah will be the one to trap your soul!"
Charlie drops a log on the fire. Orange embers rise from the flames and trail of into the starry night. Luther yawns, mesmerized by the orange sparks.
"So that's it? He killed the Cheyenne chief. I thought you said it was a love story," Kevin says, wondering what he's missing.
"Yes, sir. He ran him right through with his own instrument. We ain't even close to the end of this here story, so sit tight, shut your mallow eaters, and open your ear balls," Charlie says.
"Wasn't he scared?" John asks.
"If he was he didn't show it!"
"Was it right for him to kill Chief Black Bear?" Zack asks.
"What an incredible question! In this life, I've learned two things: One, things ain't always what they seem. Two, wrong ain't always what it seems, either. Sometimes right has way of appearing in a messy ball of wrong, but once you begin to untangle it, you see it for what it is."
"How do you know if it's right, then?" Luther asks, looking up from the flames for the first time since the story began.
"That's another great question. In this case, nothing could stop right from untangling its wrong self."
Grass Woman, Kiowa's mother, lays strips of elk meat out on a pine pole. Her mind drifts, and she swears she feels her husband, Lone Wolf, place his hand on her shoulder. An electric sensation fires on every nerve. It washes over her in a way that can be described only as a gust of wind. It awakens her soul with little cracks of lightning. She presses her hand to where she thinks she feels his.
"I feel you, my love," she whispers as the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. When the breeze passes, her hand slides from her shoulder to her heart. "I did not think you would want to leave the happy hunting grounds to come back and see me like this." Warmth, as powerful as the sun, rises inside her. In that moment, she knows she is not alone. Like the tide drawing back, the wave fades and her senses are again her own. But the memory of the moment remains, and though the warmth is gone, her heart is on fire.
As the day passes and the sun sets, the tribe readies for a cool night. Fog smothers the grass and fires ignite to keep the children and elderly warm.
"COME! COME!" Paw's voice interrupts the peaceful calm of the settling tribe.
Children run out of their tepees wearing sackcloth rabbit fur that conceals their gender. Their mothers chase after them with toddlers in arms. The warriors follow the women to see what all the excitement is about.
"My brother, Lone Wolf, spared us from Chief Black Bear and paid a high price for our lives. Today Chief Black Bear has been repaid equally for the hole he punched in our hearts!"
The tribe erupts in high cheers and loud praise. The warriors turn to Paw, excitedly rushing toward him. Hundreds of questions leap out of broad grinning faces.
"You killed Chief Black Bear?" Two Moons, Lone Wolf's oldest son, asks.
Paw immediately sets the record straight. "Kiowa killed Chief Black Bear!"
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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...