Black Sun studied the
woman, concealing his emotions behind the stony mask of his face. He had
never seen a white female before. This one was young, and might even be
judged pretty in the eyes of the Nih’oo’oo. But to him she looked
as pale and strange as a ghost. Dirty, tangled hair, its color like dried
cattail stems, lay in dank strings around her soot-smeared face. The
cloud-gray eyes that stared up at him were bloodshot and wide with
terror. One hand splayed protectively over her bulging belly. The other
lay concealed beneath her skirt as if hiding something, a knife, perhaps.
He would be wise to watch that treacherous little hand.
The Arapaho life
path was built upon giving to others. As a follower of that path, he was
duty-bound to take pity on all those in need, even non-human beings like
this Nih’oo’oo woman. To turn away and leave her to die, along
with her unborn child, would bring disgrace upon himself and his people.
Still, as he
shifted and made ready to dismount, Black Sun found himself paralyzed by
warring emotions. The nine years he had spent in a filthy cabin, with the
white trapper who had bought his widowed mother for a few strings of
beads, had separated him from the true way of the Arapaho. Those same
nine years had spawned a hatred of whites that ran as deep as the marrow
of his bones.
council of his grandfather, Four Winds, he had returned to his mother’s
burial place seeking reconciliation, and asking for a vision that would
bind him to his people once more and enable him to serve them. Weak from
fasting, he had pleaded with Heisonoonin, the great creator and father of
all, to cleanse his spirit and bring him peace. But because his heart was
hardened by old angers, the vision would not come. Heisonoonin had sent
him away empty.
Now, as if to mock
him, fate had flung this helpless white woman across his path, giving him
no choice except to take compassion and help her.
As he eased his leg over
the pony’s withers, the vile curses his drunken stepfather had screamed at
his cringing mother echoed in his memory. Part of him wanted to shout
them into the woman’s ears, to let her know exactly what he thought of her
kind. But when he finally cleared his throat and spoke, the words that
emerged were simple.
“Don’t be afraid. I won’t