For those who are not yet familiar with my work, I’m posting a FREE PREVIEW of a portion of one of my favorite chapters from my first novel adventure, Rescue on White Thunder. Originally, this particular character was not a part of the story; he came along at the right time and the rest of the story developed around him and his Native traditions. It’s the part of the writing process I enjoy most – the unexpected meanders and turns we writers take on the storytelling journey to entertain and enlighten.
Chapter 3: The Legend of White Thunder
(Amazon, copyright 2012 D. Thunderhawk All rights reserved)
“Leonard Laughing Bear is a six-foot man in his mid-fifties with a stout build and broad shoulders designed for carrying the weight of the world. Hair as thick as a Berber carpet flows freely down his back and is streaked with gray between strands of deep black. The lines on his face are a roadmap to the life history of an experienced elder. His left knee is bowed outward so when he walks he tilts a little to the left. His eyes are small, dark beads that glow with an intensity and hint of a deeper knowing, and are bordered by prominent cheekbones that seem carved from rock. He is a soft-spoken man with a velvety-toned voice that draws people in to listen attentively. He is a gifted storyteller.
Upon entering the library, Annie followed signs that read “Story Hour with Laughing Bear – All Ages Welcome,” down the east hall to Reading Room A. Inside, children of various ages vied for space up front and closest to a small stage set with a mission-style wooden chair. A leather fringed bag rested on the seat next to a microphone and stand; a gourd rattle and rain stick lay on the floor next to the chair. Adults, most likely parents of the excited children, Annie assumed, leaned against walls at the rear of the room on either side of the door. Annie joined them, not knowing what to expect. There was electricity in the air. A moment later, Leonard Laughing Bear stepped up on to the stage from behind a curtained-off area and a hushed silence fell over the room. The children sat cross-legged and leaned in, their faces beaming with anticipation.
Leonard opened the leather bag and removed a deerskin wrap containing a bundle of dried sage and cedar and a large fan fashioned of six eagle feathers drawn together with rawhide – one for each direction, and the Sky Beings and Mother Earth. He lit the singed end of the bundle and fanned the sweet, pungent curls of smoke first over himself and then over the crowd seated before him, speaking in a language they did not understand. When he finished, he dowsed the bundle in a small plate of sand placed on the floor at his feet. When the bundle no longer glowed, he carefully packed away the deerskin wrap and its sacred contents. He pulled a hand-carved cedar flute from the bag and placed the bag on the floor. Leonard sat in the chair, flute in his lap, and pulled the microphone closer, adjusting the height for maximum amplification. No one moved or made a sound.
Leonard spoke slowly, ritualistically. “Welcome children, parents, everyone, to Story Hour. My name is Leonard Laughing Bear. I am also called Wahúnkh-têshi, Keeper of the Spirit Cave. The sacred medicine bundle and prayers have been passed down to me by my mother’s people. My people, the Uşkéwah , have lived on this land for more than four thousand years,” he emphasized, sweeping his arm over the attentive crowd and gesturing with four fingers, “under the watchful eye of Washīshi Tetŭ and his children, who live on White Thunder Mountain in the Spirit Cave. Now I know many of you have heard the story of the Thunder Beings and maybe some of you do not believe, but I tell you, they do exist. So I will tell you the story of the Thunder Beings and how they watch over us humans. My mother and her mother before her, and so on back through time, have been the guardians of our oral tradition and now I pass it on to you.”
“It came to pass long ago, before there were white people, when my people lived in peace and harmony with the land,” he began, leaning forward, sweeping his eyes across the front row of children, who seemed to barely breathe as he spoke, “When the Great Thunderbird, Washīshi Tetŭ, came to live on White Thunder Mountain.”
“It was during the Moon of the Drying Grass,” he continued, “when warriors were heading home from their hunts. Women readied for tanning the hides of animals the warriors brought back with them, and prepared a tipi for smoking the meat that would provide food for the people in the long winter that was to come. Others harvested roots and mushrooms.”
Leonard paused, as if in deep thought, then continued, a note of foreboding in his voice. “One day, two of the young women, Woman With Fire and Talking Bird, were gathering mushrooms and wild turnips on the edge of their winter camp. Storm clouds raced in to cover the blue sky, leaving Woman With Fire and Talking Bird in darkness.”
Leonard didn’t skip a beat. “Woman With Fire, a name given to her because she was strong-willed and outspoken, looked up to the sky and saw Nahünķpt′a, the Night Rider, a dark and powerful bird with red flames for eyes and talons so sharp they could tear a human to shreds with one swipe. Nahünķpt′a was a selfish creature who wished for dominion over all the lands as well as the sky, and he would kill any human who took from his land.” Leonard closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath as he vividly remembered how his mother used to tell him the story of the Evil One Who Was Dropped from the Sky.”