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Path of the Butterfly
Author's note: When I was writing this piece, I was going through some difficult heart break because of one person. That person was always there for me, joked with me, and helped me create so many memories. When he just stopped taking to me, the feeling I experienced was worse than any pain I've ever had before. That's why I wrote this story to all people who have ever had their heart shattered by someone they loved dearly. It is also to warn the innocent, that love doesn't always end in "happily ever after".
“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.
I paced outside the of my teepee uneasily. Five days had passed, and in those five days, I had been facing an internal struggle of my own. Akando would be waiting at that fallen tree, and a part of me wanted to go see him. Then there was Kuyani’s voice nagging at my mind, telling me that he was not good for me. I shook my head to clear my thoughts and sat down on the earth with my palms to my face.
“Are you going to sulk around or tell me what’s wrong?”
I lifted my head to the familiar husky voice of Kuyani, who was extending a hand out to me. I took his hand and allowed him to pull me to my feet.
“I’m just thinking, it’s not a new thing for me.” I said irritatedly.
“Not a new thing, but it is a very rare thing.” he snickered. I let out an exasperated sigh and turned my back to him. “Hey I’m just kidding” he said softly as he held on to my hand. I tried to break away, only to unexpectedly be forcefully pulled against his chest in a tight embrace” My mind went blank from the shock of what was happening, it wasn’t the first time Kuyani had hugged me... but this was different. I unsuccessfully tried to slip out of his arms, but he didn’t budge. After what seemed like a lifetime, he finally loosened his grip and I shrugged myself free of his suffocating hold. I took a few steps backwards. My face felt like it was on fire.
“I-I have to go!” I burst out suddenly and turned away from him to face the forest entrance.
“Wait!” Kuyani protested. I halted abruptly and waited. “Your mother sent me to tell you that we desperately need more herbs, chuchupate in particular. The tribe is weakening, and we need to keep our strength up until we can move somewhere else, away from the Blackfoot tribe.” I said nothing, and started to sprint into the forest again. I’m not entirely sure of what happened back there, but it didn’t feel right. My feet carried me far from the village, and eventually, my instinct led me back to the stream I had been at five days ago.
I let out a few heavy breaths and crouched, scooping up handfuls of water and splashing it onto my face. As I bent over to receive more water, a large splash of water hit me in the face. Surprised, I fell back on my rear and looked up in confusion. On the other side of the stream was Akando, giggling like a little boy. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh with him, even though my buckskin top was now soaking wet.
“How long have you been standing there?” I asked.
“A while , it’s a wonder nobody has mistaken me for a deer and shot me by now” he laughed as he made his way across the stream to my side. I smiled and thought of how much he was like my father with his his innocent smile and good natured humor.
“I’m sorry I kept you waiting so long...” I faltered. Akando gestured a dismissal with his hand.
“It’s ok, all that matters is that you’re here now. I’ve kind of missed you” he admitted shyly. My smile widened.
“I sort of missed you too... Our tribe is struggling right now, so it’s nice to get away from that atmosphere” I admitted. Akando’s smile fell to a frown.
“What’s happening” he inquired. I explained our food loss and lack of herb situation to him as briefly as I could. He listened to all I had to say with a thoughtful look on his face. When I had finished, he remained silent and kept staring past me. His eyebrows were scrunched together in a concentrated look. Finally, he blinked a few times and turned his gaze back to me. “I’m very sorry to hear that.” he replied sympathetically. I was about to respond, when he continued “But don’t worry... I’ll take care of you.” and upon saying those words, he had placed his hand on mine and leaned in closer to my face. I didn’t move or flinch as I felt his lips brush my cheek and draw back. A fluttering sensation rose up in my stomach, a good feeling.
It felt right. One of my hands rose up to his cheek and I steadily closed the space between his face and mine. Our lips met gently, with a mixture of warmth and ecstasy, which lingered for a few heavenly moments . Akando pulled away first, his face red with a bashful smile. I smiled stupidly and faked a cough.
“Well I guess I better get back to the village now... they need me.” I said matter-of-factly. Akando nodded dazedly with that smile still stuck to his face.
“We meet here again in five days?” he asked. I nodded my approval and hugged him one final time. As I walked away from the stream back to my village, I felt a spark within me that had not been ignited before. It completed me.
Two full moons had gone by since I had first met Akando, and so much had happened in that time. Despite Kuyani’s warnings, every five days we would meet at the stream separating the Blackfoot territory from the Crow, and each time we met was a new exhilarating experience. I could show and talk to him about anything; the secret entrances to my village, the pressure Ma gives me about herb-collecting, his resemblance to my deceased father... Each time he’d put an arm around me and whisper comforting words, which never failed to brighten my spirits. He’s my safe haven, and he’s nothing like the rest of his brutal comrades.
In my village, things weren’t going as great. Yesterday, two of our hunters, had gotten shot by arrows. One of them was at death’s doorstep, but the other one had just taken the hit to his elbow and would recover soon. Everyone is sure that the Blackfoot tribe is responsible, but I don’t want to believe it. Akando wouldn’t let this happen.Ten days ago, he had taken me up to a spot on the mountain where we watched the sun set , lighting up the horizon with a blend of pink, yellow, and orange colors. While we watched, he drew me in close to him and made a confession that I’ll never forget.
“Nobody has ever made me feel the way you do Nova... I’ll never let any harm come to you.” Those words have stuck with me since then, and have kept my head in the heavens for the last few days.
“Knock Knock” a finger tapped on my forehead twice in a teasing tone. I shook my head. It took me a moment for me to recognize and focus on Kuyani’s grinning face.
“Oh, hey Kuyani” I said airily.
“Hey Nova, what’s wrong with you lately? You’ve been spacing out like this all week.” I shrugged and looked past him, sighing as I thought of seeing Akando by the stream again today. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ma walking towards Kuyani and I, forcing me to come back to reality again. I straightened up in an attempt to improve my stance and turned in her direction expectantly. As she approached, her eyes traveled from me to Kuyani. She stopped in front of me and a knowing smile lit up her face.
“Kuyani” she acknowledged him with a nod of her head. “And you, Nova” her stare turned to me and I returned it respectfully. “I need to send you out again to collect her-”
“Ok Ma I’m on it!” I smiled broadly and began to jog away.
“Wait!” I unwillingly paused and listened to what she had to say. “You have been slacking in your duties, bringing little to no herbs. That’s why this time, I want you to bring Kuyani with you to keep you on task.” She smiled and gave Kuyani a look I could not interpret.
“But-” I protested.
“No buts!” she proclaimed. “Now off you go!” she patted us both on the back and walked away to pester another poor child. My eyes darted back to Kuyani and I felt my heart sink. It’s not like I could just tie Kuyani up to a post and run off to meet Akando.
“Come on, don’t give me that look. We’ll be back before you know it!” Kuyani said reassuringly. He was so clueless. I smiled at him in response anyways and ran for the entrance of the forest.
“I will, but not you slowpoke!” I called back tauntingly.
“Hey!” he shouted back in surprise. My pace quickened as the sound of his footsteps resounded behind me. Everyone in the village thought that Kuyani and I were the most agile of everyone else. I didn’t know if this was true, but if I was going to have to outrun him in the forest if I planned on getting him off my tail. My bare feet hit the forest ground furiously as I wove between trees. As I delved deeper into the depths of the woods, the sounds of Kuyani’s feet soon started to dissipate. Just in time, the stream was up ahead. I ran over to a tree near it and collapsed against it to catch my breath.
As I was breathing heavily, my eyes caught site of some movement across the stream. I lifted my head hopefully, and I was pleased to see the lean, muscular form of Akando peeking with an amused smile. Before I had time to acknowledge him, Kuyani came crashing through the trees. Akando’s face lit up with alarm and he silently withdrew behind the tree again. My feet were too heavy to move, even with my persistent struggling. Soon Kuyani had picked his way over to me and helped pull me up, chuckling as he did so.
“Nice... try... Blossom..” he said between gasps of air. I leaned against the tree and struggled to get my breath back.
“Good job... you can leave now” I said in a small voice. Appearing to have caught his breath, Kuyani placed his hand against the tree I was leaning on and took a step towards me.
“You know that you don’t want that.” he said. His face no longer showing laughter, just his almond shaped brown eyes looking intensely back into my own. I struggled to move away from him, but his right hand pinned my left hand above my head. Before I could move my right hand, his left hand was there to hold it against the tree. Struggling was futile now. I shut my eyes tightly, and as I did Kuyani’s lips were pushed against mine forcefully. This was wrong! Every fiber of my body was telling me so.
Then I remembered. Akando. I opened my eyes and looked over Kuyani’s shoulder to see Akando’s stare boring back into mine. His mouth was set in a firm line and suddenly his eyes glazed over. His expression became blank and unreadable. I wanted so much to call out his name... to try and explain things... but it was too late. He turned his back to me and started to walk away, back into Blackfoot territory. As Akando disappeared into the forest, Kuyani pulled his face away from mine. At a glance of my expression, he also released my hands. He was trying to say something, in a shaky voice, but his words never reached my ears.
I walked away. Away from Kuyani, away from the stream, and away from that tree. I didn’t turn back to see if Kuyani was following me, but it did not matter if he had or not. I walked until I reached the base of the mountain, and hiked up a little ways until I reached the spot I was looking for. The sun started to set as my mind drifted off into a peaceful sleep. In my dream, a pair of strong arms lifted me up and carried me home. They set me by the warm, comforting fire, and I was safe. The flames began to creep closer and lapped at my hands, then my feet, and soon engulfed my whole body.
I woke up with a start. The sound of a woman’s scream resounded outside of our teepee. Ma was at at my mat in a moment, ushering me to my feet. As she did, an unfamiliar man with the horizontal lines painted on his cheeks ran into our teepee bearing a tomahawk.
“Ma! Behind you!” I cried desperately. Ma turned and the tomahawk met her skull with a sickening crack. I screamed at the sight of my mother’s crumpled body bleeding on the floor, and my cries intensified when I realized the man with the Tomahawk was now looming above me. This was the end. I closed my eyes and cringed, bracing myself for the pain. Instead of impact, I heard a large thump. I opened my eyes and saw that the Blackfoot warrior had an arrow stuck in his back and was lying face first on the ground. I stared wide eyed at the second corpse before I felt my arm being lifted by a strong hand.
“Come on, we need to get out of here!” Kuyani bellowed. He notched a second arrow and motioned with head to follow him out of the teepee. He ran out and I followed. Night time still cloaked us with its darkness. The moon was mostly full, but it wasn’t pure and white as it usually was. While Kuyani and I were running through the village, the moon’s color became increasingly more red, the color of blood. The screams of women, children and men grew louder as we passed each teepee. Men from the Crow were outside now, attempting to protect the village. As I watched, each one was overpowered or collapsed before putting up much of a fight. Kuyani knelt and pulled the arrow back in his bow. I followed his line of sight to a Blackfoot warrior with a tomahawk raised over a young boy.
As he released the arrow, another Blackfoot warrior jumped out from a teepee behind us and advanced toward Kuyani. My voice was gone, I stared in horror as the warrior approached and struck his tomahawk into Kuyani’s neck. This couldn’t be happening, Kuyani and Ma... this wasn’t real. The Blackfoot warrior turned his face to mine. There was blood lust in his eyes and the red tribal marks on his face were splattered from the blood of my family; The Crow. Kuyani’s murderer walked toward me with the tomahawk raised in the air. I snapped back to reality and determination and anger gave me energy. I would not stand here waiting to be rescued again.
I broke off in a sprint, avoiding the Blackfoot warrior and ntot looking back to see if I was being pursued. I passed burning teepee after burning teepee, until finally I reached our secret entrance and exit. I hid behind a large clump of bushes at the edge of our village and watched as three Blackfoot warriors crawled through the maze of long grass and overgrown vegetation into our village. The surrounding areas of the entrance were surrounded by thorny bushes. Only the members of the Crow knew how to get to the passageway without getting cut up. So how-
A powerful hand grabbed my shoulder and forced me to the ground, cutting off all my thoughts. A sharp pain spread throughout my back and I cried out. The shadowed body of a Blackfoot sat on my stomach, adding more pressure to my back. I whimpered even more and grabbed at the grass.
“Hush little flower” a voice whispered in my ear with a hint of malice. I found my eyes looking up into those of Akando. Sweet, innocent, playful Akando.
“Akando... why are you doing this?” I managed to gasp out. He smirked and pulled a knife out of his belt slowly.
“You are nothing to me. Your tribe is weak and so are you.” He traced the upper part of chest with the tip of his knife and stopped over my heart.
“You don’t want this...” I pleaded, looking into his hate-filled eyes. “I love you...” At my words, his expression contorted into that of the concerned, caring Akando I knew, but just for a moment. In another second, the fury and hatred were back in his eyes. The knife dug into my bosom and the excruciating pain flooded my body in a torrent. I released an unceasing agonized scream. He continued to carve into me with his blade. I started to feel faint, Akando seemed to be drifting further and further away from me and my vision was getting darker. At last he finished and reached into me, pulling out something red and slimy. “I love him...” I thought as my dizziness reached its peak and the world fell into blackness. He had my heart.