When I was writing this piece, I was going through some difficult heart break because of one...
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The Flight Begins
“Nova! Come over here” I turned toward the sweet, familiar voice and paused.
“I’m coming Mama!” I quickly I rose to my feet and let my feet guide me along the soft earth. As I rounded the Elder’s teepee I quickened my pace until the soles of my feet were slapping the ground hard and I was kicking up spurts of dust.
“Hey! Come back! I’m in here!” I halted abruptly, skidding in the dirt as I did. Then slowly took a few steps back and poked my head into the teepee.
“Ma? I’m here now, what do you need?” I asked tentatively.
“Come in and sit down.” she said with a glint in her eyes and a hint of a smile. I obediently sauntered over to where she was sitting and took my place next to her. “As you know, you’ve been my apprentice for quite a long time and have gained a proper understanding of all the herbs and their whereabouts. It is time.” My eyes widened as I struggled to keep a straight face.
“R-Really...? By...myself?” despite my efforts, my jaw dropped open ever so slightly.
“Shut your mouth and look at me!” she said sternly. “I need you to listen to me carefully so you won’t be out there daydreaming.” I snapped my jaw shut quickly and fixed my eyes on hers with a short nod. Ma sighed and closed her eyes.
“Our supply of chuchupate has just run out. You know how important that herb is to our tribe since the Blackfoot have started to rise up against us.” Her intense glare sent me into a reflex of sporadic nods, and then she continued. “Your task is to find some more chuchupate at the base of the great mountain to restock our supplies. Now this is the first time you’re going off to look for herbs on your own so I want you to remember that it’s dangerous out there right now and I don’t want you to ever...” her voice just kept droning on and on in that monotonous tone. I finally get to be in that dense welcoming forest alone; Just be out there with the fresh, crisp earth beneath my feet, the breeze flowing through my coarse raven hair, the sun glinting down at me through the treetops, and maybe even-
“NOVA!!!” I immediately ceased the motion in my hand which was subconciously twirling a strand of my hair and gradually, the sounds of finches and childrens’ laughter brought me back to the present moment. Ma sighed even deeper than before and closed her eyes, muttering a silent prayer. After a few moments she opened them again and looked at me with a defeated look in her eyes. “You may go now. Return as quickly as possible... and stay focused, please.”
“Yes Ma!” I leapt to my feet and only caught a glimpse of her exasperated face before I was out of the shelter and letting my small, determined legs guide me to the entrance of the forest as swiftly as the wind. I zipped into the entrance just as quickly as I saw it and spread out my arms to feel the refreshing breeze, which tickled the spaces in between my fingers. Finally, the energy I had gained from all the excitement had started to slow, and my pace slowed with it. Taking one more step, I exhaled slowly and released the tension in my calves. Being out in the calming woods on my own is what I’ve wanted to do ever since my hair was shoulder length and I had just begun my apprenticeship. Now that this dream was finally coming true, I was more than overjoyed.
Suddenly, a flash of bright red fluttered past my line of view. What’s this? I strained my eyes and followed the color until I recognized the shape of a butterfly; The most beautiful butterfly I had ever seen. Its red wings were so vivid, they reminded me of the bright fire that my tribe prepares when a hunter has caught a particularly large prize. Along the edges of its wings was a black lining, with tiny ash colored flecks embedded in it. How did a creature this beautiful end up in our forest? I wondered. As I stared in awe, the beautiful insect I had just discovered decided to glide deeper in the forest. I mindlessly followed it, curious to its whereabouts. Perhaps it was a sign from the spirits, to wish me luck on my first expedition of this kind.
The butterfly continued to fly ahead of me casually. The longer I continued to follow it, the closer the trees seemed to be from one another. While I was observing this skeptically, the butterfly’s flight stopped in mid-air. Huh? How is this possible? Doesn’t it need to keep flapping its wings? Then I saw the glint of sunlight reflecting off of a long thin strand, part of a web. The realization dawned on me as I took in the image of the flaming butterfly pressed up against the strands of web. I turned my head away from the scene and placed my focus on the bush to my left.
The bush rustled ever slightly, enough to catch my eye. I squinted and scrutinized it further, anticipating a squirrel or other animal to jump out. Instead, I saw a pair of large dark brown eyes staring intensely back into my own. We held each others’ gaze for a few minutes before I decided to act.
“You can come out, I won’t hurt you.” I said while reaching out a hand. The eyes shifted down from my gaze to my feet and then back up to meet my face again. The leaves in the canopy above rustled as a steady wind flowed through the forest. Finally the small branches from the bush shook slightly and my eyes widened as I took in what was emerging from the bush. The confusion from my eyes reflected back into the handsome boy’s eyes standing in front of me. His dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail and his square jaw was set into an expression that held many questions. He had sinewy arms that I had only seen on a few men in our tribe, and over one of his broad shoulders there rested a long bow. All of this was intriguing, but his most interesting feature resided on his face. Two horizontal red lines were streaked across his cheeks; the marks of a Blackfoot. I stepped back and gaped, debating in my mind whether I should flee or try to negotiate.
“What are you doing on our territory?” He asked, his voice unfaltering.
I cringed a little upon hearing his voice, although it wasn’t accusing or harsh in any way.
“I’m sorry... I was out looking for herbs and saw this butterfly, so I followed it because it was a really beautiful butterfly, then it got stuck in that web up there” I pointed in the general direction of where I had seen the web “And now I’m here talking to a Algoneweean boy that came out of some bushes!” I finished. The boy’s face contorted into a look of amusement and he chuckled a little.
“You are a very strange girl” he managed to say and bent over with his laughter. I could feel my face burning and I turned my face downwards in case it could show. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone off into a foolish rant and made myself look like an idiot.
“Says the boy who was watching me in the bushes.” I retorted. This just brought on another fit of laughter from the boy, and my face grew even hotter. “Would you stop that already?!” I shouted. “It’s not that funny! In fact, why don’t you explain why you didn’t shoot me when you had the chance?” The chortling died down and the Blackfoot boy slowly gained his composure again.
“You’re as thin as a stalk of corn and as short as a sapling. And well, if you look at me...” He paused to flex his arms and continued “I think it’s pretty clear that you’re not a threat to me, or anyone for that matter.” As much as I hated to admit it, he had a point. I’ve always been short and was often called “little blossom” in my tribe because of my size and “fragility”. However, I didn’t want to hear it from this stranger.
“Well at least I have some important knowledge about medicinal things...and can run swiftly” Wow, that was my best comeback? The boy arched his eyebrow, a slight smile making its way back to his lips.
“Do you normally give out valuable information about yourself to strangers?” He asked. My nostrils flared and I glared in his direction, at loss for comebacks. “Relax... I have no intention of harming you.” He raised his right palm into the air. “My name is Akando of the Blackfoot. I glanced at his hand, and slowly, became at ease again.
“My name is Nova of the Crow” I hesitantly raised my right palm into the air.
Akando smiled at me with those brilliant brown eyes. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was as beautiful as the butterfly that had led me here. We didn’t say much more for a while, just sat there and enjoyed the sounds of the forest all around us and accepting each others’ presence. After a while the boy stood up and held out a hand to me.
“Come on, if we stay here too much longer another hunter will come along and then we’ll both be in trouble” I took his hand and he pulled me to my feet, brushing the dirt off of my deerskin pants absentmindedly. My eyes skirted the unfamiliar terrain and vegetation surrounding me desperately. “Don’t worry, I’ll walk you to the border of our territory” he said reassuringly. I breathed out a sigh of relief.
“Thank you very much.” I was genuinely thankful for him now. He smiled again and unexpectedly, took my hand.
“No problem little flower.” What did he call me? That was so close to my nickname in the tribe that it was scary; It almost made him seem... like a member of the Crow. I clasped his hand and returned his smile as we began to trod across the forest ground. My grandpa used to tell me that time passes quickly when you are enjoying life with a person you love. I don’t know if I loved this boy, but time passed very quickly. Soon I started to recognize my environment again and I actually felt a twinge of sadness when we halted at the stream and my hand was released. Neither of us moved, I looked over at Akando and saw that he was staring back at me.
“So... this it it.” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“Yeah... but it doesn’t feel right.” His face no longer showed that charming smile, instead it expressed a downcast expression.
“This doesn’t have to be the end... We could meet here and chat once in a while” I was aware that he was part of the Blackfoot tribe, but he had caught my interest and I wanted to know more about this boy named Akando. He looked away and remained silent for a few minutes with his eyebrows scrunched up. Finally he turned back to me and responded.
“I would very much like to. There aren’t many others I can spend time with in our tribe.” My heart filled with empathy for him. In my tribe I only had one other friend named Kuyani, and he was different from the Blackfoot boy before me.
“I understand” I truthfully told him. “So should we meet here after five days?” His lips turned upward and he nodded, confirming my request. My happiness showed on my face with one of my embarrassingly large smiles. He turned, with the smile still playing along his lips and started walking back in the direction we had come from.
“Bye Nova.” he said as he departed back to his tribe’s base.
“Bye Blackfoot boy.” I started to walk home, feeling proud of myself. Although, I’d probably have to come up with some explanation for Ma as to why I didn’t bring back chuchupate, the scolding I’ll receive will probably be worth it. I looked up and noticed that the sky was beginning to have a tint of pink, signaling that the sun would soon disappear. Quickening my pace, I jogged towards home. I breathed a sigh of relief as a I reached the border between the forest and my village. I slowed down and began to cross the threshold, when suddenly I felt a hand grasp my arm forcefully. I screamed and lashed out uselessly in the direction the hand had come from.
My hand met the firm abdomen of my my friend Kuyani whose hand quickly clasped itself over my mouth.
“Don’t scream, it’s just me.” he reassured me. I immediately lowered my voice and narrowed my eyes. “Hey don’t look at me as if I’M the one who did something wrong Nova!” My eyes widened in alarm and I successfully pushed him into the shadows of another tree where we wouldn’t be heard as easily. Kuyani removed his hand and gave me an accusative glare. I flinched from the intensity of his stare and stuttered pathetically.
“S-So... you saw?”
“Oh I saw everything.” He replied. “You know their kind is a hazard to us, never associate with them again. Do you hear me?” I rolled my eyes.
“Yes mother” I said sarcastically. He let out an exasperated sigh and shook his head.
“You better not, it’s for your own well-being... and the well-being of the tribe.” I let out a groan and pointed a finger in his face.
“Why don’t you just focus on hunting Kuyani, I know it’s hard to believe... but after fifteen full cycled seasons, I can take care of myself.” Kuyani opened his mouth, as if to speak again, but I cut him off. “Speaking of which, why don’t you have any animals?” His face twisted and then his gaze fell to the ground.
“In the past seven days, the best meat we’ve supplied to the village is couple of thin deer. The animals are disappearing...” This was definitely news to me, unpleasant news at that.
“Where could they have gone?” I asked. Kuyani shrugged and focused his gaze back to my eyes.”
“I don’t know, but I do know that this is no time to let your guard down.” My eyes met his eyes and I nodded curtly. He didn’t seem entirely convinced by my response, but still took put his arm around my shoulder and walked with me back to our village in silence.