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Falling Snow hummed gently to herself as she absent-mindedly braided the mane of her horse, Swift Wind. They were standing in a small, somewhat isolated clearing under a canopy of ancient pines. The pair came here often; Falling Snow, to escape the bustle and chore-assigning adults of her Native American village, and Swift Wind to keep her company.
Sometimes it seemed to Falling Snow that Swift Wind was her only true friend. Being the youngest of five siblings, she often felt like she was living in a shadow. A shadow cast by her brother and three sisters. Her brother was a magnificent warrior, and her sisters were all radiantly beautiful and had a long list of talents. And, worst of all, they weren’t nice about it, especially Calling Bird, her eldest sister, who was about to get married.
Falling Snow was just average. She wasn’t ugly, but she wasn’t exceptionally beautiful. She wasn’t extraordinarily talented. She was clumsy. The one thing people praised her about was her ability to gentle horses, but that seldom came in handy.
Someday, she was going to prove herself to village. Someday, she would show her tribe that she was someone special. But not today.
“Falling Snow! Falling Snow, where are you?” a voice called, interrupting her peace.
“I’m here!” she called back.
Panting, a boy about her own age came out of the trees and into the clearing. His name was Wolf.
“What is it?” Falling Snow asked.
“Blooming Flower sent me,” he replied. “She said that there were hides to tan, meals to cook, clothes to mend.”
Falling Snow grimaced. Chores.
Wolf simply shrugged and started back toward the village. With one graceful motion, Falling Snow mounted her horse and followed him.
When they arrived at the village, Falling Snow left her horse with the rest of the village’s herd, and proceeded on foot.
She walked through the scattered tipis, not going anywhere in particular. She was reluctant to find Blooming Flower, the elderly woman who was known throughout the tribe to have a habit of assigning chores to any person she saw that was not doing something to benefit the village.
It wasn’t that Falling Snow disliked chores. They were mostly okay. But she hated how people treated her when she made clumsy mistakes. They would sigh, and ask why she couldn’t be more like her sisters, who seemed to never make mistakes. It wasn’t her fault she was clumsy!
A voice jolted Falling Snow back into reality.
“There you are!” said Blooming Flower. “I’ve been looking for you all morning.” She motioned with her hand to where a young woman sat a little ways off washing clothes. “Why don’t you go help White Cloud?”
“Sure,” Falling Snow muttered. She walked over to White Cloud, feeling somewhat intimidated by a rather large pile of unwashed clothes.
“Oh, good,” White Cloud said, without looking up from her work. “I could use your help.”
Falling Snow sat down and began scrubbing the dirt off of one of the many buckskin skirts worn by the women and girls.
It was a mindless task, allowing her time to think. She tried to think of something she could do to prove that she was just as special, just as talented as anyone else. She was tired of being the girl that everyone thought of as clumsy and untalented. She wanted to make her family proud. But, try as she might, Falling Snow couldn’t think of anything.
Still deep in thought, she came across a particularly stubborn patch of dirt. She scrubbed and scrubbed, then picked up a stone and scrubbed even harder, but it wouldn’t come.
Frustrated, she scrubbed with all her might.
But instead of removing the dirt, she knocked over her jar of dirty water, all over the pile of neatly folded clean clothes.
“I’m so sorry!” she apologized quickly.
But the damage had already been done.
“Now look what you’ve done!” exclaimed White Cloud angrily. “Now we’ll have to rewash all of them!”
“Sorry,” Falling Snow apologized again. Immediately she grabbed an armload of the now-dirty clothes, but in her haste they tumbled to the ground.
Angry with herself for being so clumsy, she bent down to pick them up, but White Cloud stopped her.
“Go. I’ll take care of these,” she said flatly.
She didn’t say it, but Falling Snow knew what the older girl was thinking. It’ll get done faster without you around to mess it up. It was the same look people gave her whenever she made a careless mistake.
To avoid being given some other chore that she’d probably mess up, Falling Snow walked briskly toward the forest. On the way she passed the horse herd. She whistled loudly. Almost instantly, Swift Wind trotted up to her.
She mounted, and they set off into the forest. All she wanted to do was get as far away from the village as possible.
Falling Snow urged her horse into a gallop. He responded immediately. His hooves flew over the ground, making her feel like they were flying. The wind whipped pleasantly against her face.
They finally stopped at their favorite clearing on the edge of a hill. From here, Falling Snow could see miles and miles of beautiful landscape stretched out before her. It was breathtaking, and even though she’d seen it many times before, it sill always fascinated her.
Then she spotted something that wasn’t supposed to be there—a group of close to fifty men on horses. They were carrying bows and spears, and they were heading directly for her village.
Suddenly, Falling Snow knew what she had to do. She had finally found a way to prove herself.
She pressed her legs against Swift Wind’s side. He started galloping. Falling Snow knew she had to warn her village before the raiders came.
Swift Wind seemed to understand her urgency. Galloping faster than ever, he sped through the trees, nearly throwing his rider off once or twice. He wasn’t called Swift Wind for nothing.
A few heart-pounding moments later, they galloped into the village. “Everyone! There are raiders coming!” she shouted to the first person she saw.
A couple of people heard her. “What? Where?” one asked.
Panting, Falling Snow pointed in the direction. “That way. Around fifty of them. Spread the word!” Then she galloped off, shouting warnings to anyone.
Soon, a group of warriors had been assembled and given directions. They then rode off to meet the enemy.
Falling Snow stayed behind. She waited anxiously on Swift Wind. They paced around the camp for what seemed like hours, waiting to hear if anything happened.
Just when she had decided she couldn’t wait another minute, the men rode back into camp, whooping and yelling loudly.
“We sure chased them off!” they shouted. “We won’t be seeing them for awhile!”
And then, to her surprise, Falling Snow’s father rode out from the group and stood next to her. Putting his arm around her, he said, “And it’s all thanks to Falling Snow. Without her, we would have never known they were coming.”
Falling Snow was sure the whole tribe could see her blush.
The whole village erupted into loud cheering. They were cheering for their victory, and for the warriors. But they were also cheering for Falling Snow, who had saved them from a surprise attack. She smiled, knowing her days of being underappreciated were over.
Something cold and wet landed on her cheek. Holding out her hand, she watched a snowflake fall onto her palm. And another. Looking around, she saw that it was now snowing gently. It was the same gentle, pleasant snow that she had been named for.
Surely it was a sign. A sign that held many promises of a hopeful future.