"Corn Dreamer, must you travel to the spirit world and leave this one behind?" Her voice cracked and she caught a breath to still the ache in her throat. "The men have taken the warriors’ path in answer to Waraghuyagey’s call. The-Man-Who-Understands-Great-Things speaks for the redcoats, those men who want our help. What have we to do with the ones who fail to live in harmony with the land?”
Not all the pale-skinned men, she thought. A smile crossed her face. There was one who often stayed in the village and sat at Corn Dreamer’s feet to learn.
Near a moon ago, a message had come for Hair of Fire. He had left the Long House and journeyed west. A shiver crawled her spine. Was he safe? In these days, danger rode the currents of the air the way carrion birds circled a kill.
She returned to her teacher’s side and pressed her fingers against his wrist. What had made him fall into sleep yet not sleep? Why did his heart flutter like humming bird wings and then slow. She wished for a way to rouse him for he would know the answer.
"Corn Dreamer, spirit father, medicine man, this woman is not ready for you to leave. What can this one do to help?"
She closed her eyes and sought among the things he had taught her. An answer arose. "This one must go into the forest to gather fresh leaves and bark."
From her sleeping place, she lifted a bark basket by the carrying strap and left the Long House. As she stepped outside, she heard the children’s laughter and the voices of the women raised in the growing chant. The sound chased her sorrow.
Across the clearing, her sister sat with the ones too young to work with the women. Though born of the same mother and on the same day, she and
the Stream had been raised at different fires. On the outside, they wore a
single face as reflected in a still pond, but their inner natures were different.
As the first born, Willow
Who Bends had been given to Corn Dreamer to learn about the ways of medicine
and the spirit world. Her sister had been raised as a woman of the clan. Willow
She drank in the sight of her sister. Soon
by the Stream would take a husband. That was good and right, but the change
would further separate their lives. Willow
The small ones giggled.
Who Bends waited
until her sister finished the story of the fox and the bear. Then she
approached the group. Willow
"Corn Dreamer is no better. This one must go into the forest to gather fresh medicines."
"A gift for you."
by the Stream
presented a small deerskin pouch. On one side dyed porcupine quills formed an
image of the sun, and on the other precious trade beads patterned the Three
Sisters -- Corn, Squash and Beans. Willow
"Are you not afraid to go into the forest alone?"
"Who would harm a medicine woman?"
"The enemy. Those despoilers and their pale friends move along the trails like weasels seeking prey."
"They were seen to the south and west a moon ago. This one will go north and east to the place where the willows grow beside the stream. Since you fear for me, listen with the ear that opens between us. If this one finds danger, she will cry a warning."
"This woman will listen."
At the edge of the trees,
Who Bends paused,
and for a short time watched the people of the Long House. Her foster mother
and the mother who had given her life worked side by side in the garden. Four
nearly-grown boys practiced with their bows under the eyes of the warriors who
had remained to protect the clan. With a wave, she stepped into the shadows
cast by the forest. Willow
As she moved among the trees, she stopped to gather medicines -- birch leaves, bloodroot, ginseng, bee balm. Slowly, she made her way to the stream where chill waters swept down the hill to join other streams and form a river.
The leaves of the willows had darkened from pale spring green to the darker hues of summer. All the catkins had dropped away. She pressed her hands against the largest of the cluster.
"Sister Tree, one who shares your name has need of your bark. Will you let me cut your skin?" She pressed her forehead against the tree and waited for an answer.
The scream that sounded in her head caused her to stagger. Her legs refused to hold her erect. She slid to the ground. With a terror that matched her sister’s, through the link between them, she witnessed the destruction of the Long House. The faces of the enemy burned into her head.
"Not the children!" The scream caused the earth beneath her body to shudder.
"Not the children!"
Willow Carey jerked into a sitting position. Her heart thudded in her chest. Waves of terror flooded her thoughts. She gulped deep breaths of air.
She stared at the familiar surroundings and wondered why the bedroom seemed alien. Like a shroud, the sheet had twisted around her legs. She tugged it free. Her sleep shirt, soaked with perspiration, clung to her skin. She shook her head to dislodge the fragments of the nightmare that had awakened her. Terror, grief and rage had followed her into consciousness. What? Why?
Once her heart rate slowed, she reached for the alarm clock. Too late to go back to sleep and too early to get ready for work. As the effects of the adrenaline rush faded, her sense of uneasiness grew.
She hugged her knees. Once again, she had failed but she couldn’t remember who or how.
Moments later, she stood in the shower. Warm water washed away the sour smell of fear. The nightmare wasn’t new. Six years had passed since the last time the cry had jolted her awake. Always the same urgency and the same surge of emotions. No matter how hard she tried, she never remembered more than the cry.
She stepped from the shower. After pulling on a blue terry cloth robe, she stripped the bed and stuffed the damp sheets in the hamper.
What had triggered the dream? With the thoroughness of a pathologist seeking the cause of death, she examined the past few days and found no incident that could be called a trigger.
As she made the bed, she recalled the first time she’d dreamed. She’d been sixteen. She and her twin had been at Indian’s Sorrow visiting their aunt.
Willow had always loved staying there. This
time had been different. One memory lodged in her thoughts.
Willow, come here. This is so neat."
Brooke had opened the gate at the side of the garden.
"I’m fine." Brooke leaned forward. "The rocks look like a giant’s teeth. Come see."
Brooke laughed. "Chicken."
"Something dreadful happened here."
"And I thought I was the one with the imagination and you were the logical one." Brooke spun around. "I love this place. Do you think Aunt Willow will leave it to us? She doesn’t have kids."
Willow had turned away.
She hadn’t been able to say she didn’t want Indian’s Sorrow. The land had been
in the family forever and something bound her to this place.
That night she’d dreamed. Terror had slid insidious fingers of fear into her sleep. When the summer had ended, she’d been happy to go home.
Until her aunt’s death, she hadn’t gone back. Then she learned the house and the land were hers, not a legacy to be shared with her twin.
Brooke had been furious. She’d accused
of taking advantage of their aunt. Since that day, their relationship had been
strained. Brooke’s coldness had hurt.
She sat on the edge of the bed. Where was Brooke? Five months ago, they had talked for a few minutes at an art gallery exhibition of Brooke’s paintings. Silly surface chatter with no meaning and no sense of their old bond.
Was her twin all right? She used to know when Brooke was in trouble, but the connection they’d shared had vanished.
tore her thoughts from the void left by the rift.
By six fifteen, she was ready for work. She put a bright yellow smock embroidered with Native American symbols over her white uniform. The children loved to trace the lines and learn the meanings. So did she. Her apartment reflected her interest in that part of her heritage.
She paused to study the portrait Brooke had painted of the Three Sisters -- Corn, Squash and Beans. Though
Willow had posed for the
picture, her twin could have painted herself. Long black hair, warm brown eyes,
cheekbones that added a hint of the exotic. Mirrors on the outside but
A sliver of the nightmare slid into focus. Brooke screamed. As though touched by a blast of frigid air,
Willow rubbed her arms.
What did it mean? Was Brooke in danger? She searched but the bond remained
She had no appetite, but she brewed a cup of herbal tea and toasted a bran muffin. As she picked at the food, her thoughts returned to the nightmare. Why today and why when she wasn’t at Indian’s Sorrow? She scraped the remains of the muffin in the garbage and washed the dishes.
A persistent question nagged. What did the dream mean?
She tucked a pouch containing a Kelly clamp, bandage scissors and pens in her pocket. With a stethoscope draped around her neck, she headed across the street to
worked as a pediatric nurse. West End Hospital