Disclaimers: All characters are mine. No reproduction for any other means than personal enjoyment.
Author's Note: This isn't my original idea. Thanks to Charlotte (yernod) for the initial germ of possibility from her emails to me. While I'm sure this tale won't follow her burgeoning ideas, it was her suggestions to me that caused it to come to life.
To all those who've been anxiously awaiting after Warlord Metal, I'll warn you now.... This will primarily be a romantic historical piece. Several chapters, but probably more sexual tension than sexual gratification. Don't think I'll be winning any Amazon Ice Awards with this baby.
And again, I don't plan on using Xena or Gabrielle in this tale. (Doesn't mean they won't pop up anyway.... That's what happened last time!) However, I still classify this as an Uber Xena. I'm using their archetypes as inspiration for this piece and, while the descriptions might be just a teensy bit off, they are similar.
Finally, I've used a lot of Lakota words in this piece. I'm going to try and use HTML programming to make it easier for ya'll to immediately drop down to the word in question at the bottom of the page. If the links don't work, let me know and take heart. All words and characters are listed at the bottom of each chapter!
Part 1: Wi Ile Anpo
(wee ee-leh ahn-poh)
Sun is Burning at Dawn
The warrior sat at the fire, quietly smoking a pipe. He had a buffalo robe wrapped about him to keep out the chill of the late winter evening. Before him was a fire that crackled and popped. He was not alone.
A woman, his woman's sister, was bustling around the fire to one side. As she finished preparing the evening meal, she divided her attention between two little girls. The youngest was three winters and the oldest six. The woman handed the eldest a clay bowl of stew. "Here. Bring this to your father."
With an eager smile and nod, she carefully took the steaming bowl and approached the warrior. "Ate?"
The man looked up from the fire. "Yes, cunksi," he said with a smile. He took the food from her. "Thank you, little one. Now go help your aunt with the baby."
Stopping only long enough to give her father a hug, the girl returned to the duties of keeping her little sister occupied.
Setting the bowl to one side, the warrior finished smoking his pipe in silent contemplation, steam from his breath mingling with the tobacco smoke.
Before him lay the winter camp of the Oglala Lakota. About thirty ti ikceyas lay around a large cleared area in a near circle. The only open space among them was on the eastern side where the entrance would face the rising sun. At the exact opposite of the communal space was a larger ti ikceya that was used as a meeting place for the elders and chiefs.
Finishing his tobacco, the warrior emptied the ashes into the fire so that the spirits could have the sacred smoke. His woman's sister was feeding the baby and his older daughter was seated nearby, watching everything with large brown eyes as she ate her own meal.
Behind the warrior was his woman's ti ikceya. In the flickering firelight, designs could be seen painted on the buffalo hide. The doorway was closed, a separate leather skin covering it. But it didn't close off the noises coming from within. A man's voice, the medicine man, was singing. Another's, the shaman, was chanting a spell of protection. Beneath them could be heard the sounds of a woman moaning in pain.
The warrior ate his meal quietly. Around the clearing, other families were gathered around their own lodges, all minding their own business but also out and about in silent support of him. The elders were gathered at the main fire by the council ti ikceya, smoking their pipes and discussing where to set up the summer camp in the following months.
In the lodge behind him, a sudden piercing scream rent the air. The camp seemed to freeze, all appearing to hold their collective breath in trepidation. And then a thin wail from an indignant newborn christened the night sky and the camp returned to its activities in relief. A few more moments passed as the men inside finished their prayers and incantations. The babe's voice eventually died down.
When the shaman and medicine man stepped out of the ti ikceya, the woman by the fire gathered up the children and herded them both inside. This seemed to break the tableau around the camp. As the two men sat at the warrior's fire, the women from the other lodges began trailing closer, intent on offering assistance to the new mother.
The three men sat in silence for a few moments. The shaman pulled out a bundle of fur and carefully unwrapped a pipe. It was made of an antelope antler and intricately carved and decorated. The other men watched as he carefully loaded the bowl with tobacco. He crouched forward and, with nimble fingers, used two twigs to lift a burning ember, lighting the pipe.
The glow from the fire lit his fairly unlined face. His name was Inyan Ceye and he was young to be a shaman. Only thirty-four winters. But his father had taught him since he was a boy and, with the elder's death this past winter from the coughing sickness, the younger had taken over his father's duties in the camp.
He spoke a prayer as he offered the smoke to the four directions. And then he took a puff of the pipe, using his free hand to guide the smoke towards his head and behind. Smoke was sacred and of the spirit. Its protective powers were legendary.
The shaman handed the pipe, stem first, to the warrior who repeated the process of smoking and guiding the cloud closer. And it was passed to the medicine man who did the same. The men sat in silence, finishing this ritual. When the bowl held nothing but ashes, the shaman tapped it into the fire, releasing the last of it for the great spirits that ruled their world.
The warrior waited patiently, although his worries were growing by leaps and bounds the longer the wise men remained silent. He breathed a faint sigh of relief when the medicine man cleared his throat in preparation of speaking.
"It was a difficult birth," the old man observed as he stared into the fire. "Your woman will not have any more children."
The warrior nodded. "And the child?"
"Healthy and strong," the elder informed him. "Did you hear her cry out?"
A girl. "Yes, I did." The warrior stared into the flames, as well. Another girl. And no sons.
Sensing the warrior's sinking thoughts, the shaman spoke up. "I received a vision as she was placed into my hands, Wanbli Zi," he intoned, leaning forward and peering intently at the warrior.
The warrior's dark eyes were dragged towards the shaman's and snared. He could feel a sense of waiting fill him.
"When she cried out, I could hear the scream of the igmu in her voice. In her eyes was the fire of a warrior. She will follow her father in his path."
Wanbli Zi frowned, eyes narrowing in disbelief. "But.... But it is a girl child. My cunksi."
The shaman leaned back and broke the gaze. He carefully rewrapped the pipe in his hands. "Her destiny does not lie in women's work." he insisted softly.
The warrior turned to look in puzzlement at the medicine man.
The elder shrugged. "It has been done before, though not for many, many seasons. A woman being raised as warrior and hunter for her family. She could do this thing."
"Yes," the shaman agreed, putting the now bundled pipe back into its leather pouch. "And you will have a cinksi to care for you - to hunt when you can no longer, to protect you from war, to support you in you elder seasons."
The warrior sat in silence, contemplating this odd turn of events. The pair of wise men remained quiet, as well, giving him room to think. If what the shaman says is a true vision.... No man will be able to tame her. No man will want her.
The shaman and medicine man sat and waited. Women and children bustled quietly past the trio to the ti ikceya and away with their offers of help and gifts and food.
After quite some time, Wanbli Zi rose to his feet and strode towards the now busy opening of his woman's lodge. He scattered several women and children like quail flushed from high grass. He ducked inside and was back out in seconds, a lively bundle squawking at the rude interruption. He returned to the fire and settled back down. Behind him, his woman's sister and mother peered out of the ti ikceya.
With surprising gentleness, the warrior unwrapped the bundle, revealing a newborn girl with thick black hair and ruddy, wrinkled skin. Her tiny hands were in fists and she flailed them around, shivering in the cold air. Wanbli Zi held a finger out and one fist swatted it before grasping with a strong grip. The digit was brought promptly to the hungry mouth and he could feel tiny gums against the finger pad. Her cries silence, he leaned closer.
Dark eyes stared back up at him.
Coming to a decision, he smiled. He rose and looked to the two men at his fire. Holding the baby high overhead, her cries vied with his voice as he made an announcement to the camp. "This is Cinksi, my son of the heart. She will grow strong. She will learn the arts of war and how to speak with the spirits. She will become a fierce hunter and provide for her family."
His voice carried throughout the camp. Once he finished, he sat back down and bundled his daughter against the chill. There was a hubbub of voices as the women and older children discussed the implications of his pronouncement. The younger warriors quietly scoffed, knowing that no woman would ever best them. And the elders remained silent, smoking and contemplating this turn of events.
Cinksi fought her natural childish instincts to fidget. It wasn't that what her father was doing wasn't interesting. It was the pack of boys that kept distracting her as they rampaged past, whooping and brandishing small weapons at each other.
"Watch closely," Wanbli Zi instructed, drawing his daughter's eyes back to the task at hand. "This is the knot we use." And he slowly demonstrated as he tied the wet rawhide strip on the spear haft. Once complete, he turned it to study the handiwork. "When the rawhide dries, it will tighten and the spearhead will not fall out." He used his other hand to gesture the girl closer.
She scooted forward on the buffalo robe and peered at the spear. With careful hands, she tried to wiggle the head but it held fast. She looked at her father, impressed. "It is already so strong, Ate.... Even wakan tanka couldn't move it when the rawhide dries!"
The warrior chuckled. "If wakan tanka were to want this spear in pieces, it would be so, child," he murmured.
The crowd of rowdy boys ran past and Cinksi's eyes were again torn away from the spear.
With an understanding smile, Wanbli Zi put the spear to one side. From beneath another robe, he pulled a second spear out, this one a miniature version of his own. The tip was made of blunted antler. "Cinksi."
The girl turned back to her father. When she saw what he held, her eyes widened and a hopeful smile creased her face.
"For you, Cinksi," the warrior handed the smaller weapon to the girl. "Now, go. Show the hoksila that you are far better than any of them."
Cinksi needed no further prodding. She took the spear, gave her father a huge hug and raced away to catch up with the boys.
Wanbli Zi watched his daughter go, clad only in moccasins and breechclout. What the shaman had said six winters ago had become true. The warrior simply could not envision his youngest child as a proper girl. Her aptitude and interests lay with her father's in all ways and had done so from the beginning.
The warrior looked up to the sky and sent a silent prayer of thanks to the spirits before cleaning up the detritus of his project.
The boys were huddled behind the furthest tent on the north side of camp. There were seven of them, ranging in age from six to nine winters, dressed in breechclouts and moccasins. They heatedly debated something among themselves, their voices trailing off as the newcomer's presence was noticed.
Cinksi had slowed to a walk when she got close to them. Her heart beat loudly in her chest as seven pairs of eyes stared at her. The girl could hear her father's voice in her ear. "A true warrior feels fear yet moves through it, becoming brave."
"Be brave," she murmured to herself. The girl threw her shoulders back and raised her chin to stare haughtily back as she marched forward. Stopping before the biggest boy, she glared up at him and set the butt of her new spear on the ground by her foot. A small puff of dust arose from it and settled back down.
The taller boy examined her much like she was a particularly fat bug underneath a rock. "Who are you?" he demanded, knowing the answer. No one was a stranger in the camp.
"I am Cinksi. My father is Wanbli Zi," was the regal reply.
The boy looked her up and down. With a playful tug at her breechclout, he snickered, "I heard you were a wicincala."
The other boys chuckled as well, but the smaller girl in their midst refused to be daunted. She didn't flinch away from the tugging on her clothing. "I am."
The boy immediately lost interest in her. "Go home, little wicincala. We don't play with dolls here." His dark eyes fell on the spear she held. "And you don't play with weapons." He plucked it from her hands.
Cinksi was stunned. She watched the boy heft the spear her father had given her, checking its weight and balance as he turned away. The other boys in the group were laughing, preparing to follow. It was utterly inconceivable that the boy would do such a thing, let along think he could get away with it. The world seemed to slow down as the adrenaline of anger sparked the fire the shaman had seen so many winters ago.
The spear was a good one, the weight comfortable in his hands. Wanbli Zi made it well, the boy conceded as he prepared to trot away. And then he was on the ground, gasping for breath as an angry child pounced on him. He was more surprised than hurt but the girl had driven the air from his lungs and he couldn't collect himself enough to respond. Two of the other boys in his pack pulled the small girl off him and he clambered to his feet.
Cinksi continued to struggle with her captors, growling wildly. The ones holding her, were now fearful for themselves and weren't about to let her go. The other boys stood back in awe as they watched the altercation. The eldest rose to his feet and dusted himself off.
He crouched down in front of her, studying her curiously. "You are crazy, wicincala," he said. "You should not fight me. I am older and stronger and bigger."
The girl had lessened her struggles a bit and glared back at him. "I will still fight you! Until the day I die!"
"But, you will lose, Cinksi."
"I do not care! Someday I will be bigger and stronger and then I will win."
The boy picked up the spear that had fallen to the ground during the scuffle. He looked it over carefully, dusting it off a bit and adjusting a feather that was adorning it. "All this for a spear?"
The girl's teeth could almost be heard grinding. "My father gave me that spear as a gift. It would dishonor him and myself to let it be stolen from me." She left unspoken the thought of who else would be dishonored.
She has much courage for being a wicincala. Looking up to the boys holding her arms, the eldest said, "Let her go."
Cinksi nearly stumbled as she was suddenly released. She caught herself and pulled her small frame upright in a proud stance. "I will fight you now."
The boy silently handed her the spear instead.
Frowning, the girl took the spear back into her possession. Her dark eyes narrowed as she studied her tormentor.
"My name is Nupa Olowan. My father is Wi Sape. I am very sorry for the dishonor I have shown you."
The rest of the boys stared at him as if he'd suddenly grown two heads.
The girl thought about it for a few seconds before appearing mollified. "I will still fight you," she offered in a calmer voice.
Nupa smiled at her. "If you wish. Can you and I have a truce? Until you get older and stronger?" He refrained from laughing at her serious demeanor as she considered his request.
Finally, the girl nodded. "Yes. You and I can have a truce until then."
"Good!" He straightened and looked at the other boys. "Cinksi stays with us. I never would have thought I would see the day when a wicincala would fight me for a weapon!" He inhaled deeply of the summer air. "Let's go hunting!" he yelled before turning and running off.
As expected, the boys hared off after him, accepting his decision. Cinksi stood in place for a second. Just a second. That was much easier than I thought it would be. And then she raced after them, adding her own voice to their whooping and calling.
After two moons in the company of the boys, Cinksi was accepted as a well respected member. She and the oldest boy, Nupa, had become fast friends. If one did not think of some sort of mischief to get into, the other did. And, despite her age and size, Cinksi was becoming very adept at beating the boys on all levels of physical prowess.
Currently, the eight of them were playing near the camp in the tall grass. It was towards the end of summer and their naturally dark skin had grown a deeper shade of brown under the sun's ministrations. Less than a mile away a cloud of dust rose from where the hunting party was attacking a herd of buffalo in the last communal hunt of the season. The herd had been sighted three days ago and the entire camp had traveled to this spot.
In response to all the excitement over the last few days, the pack of children had begun their own hunting party, preparing to swoop down on the buffalo - a mangy bitch and her three puppies. They had split into two groups to outflank their quarry, Nupa leading one and Cinksi the other.
A drop of sweat trickled down the girl's intense face, but she didn't wipe it away. Her party had closed in on the left flank and she didn't want to move and give her position away to the dogs. It had taken the better part of the morning to gain this spot, a small hillock with a dip in the center that kept the small family beneath her hidden from general view. The inexperienced hunters had flushed the mother and her pups twice already. One more time and Cinksi was going to forget about the elusive bitch and return to her mother's ti ikceya for something to eat.
On the other side of the dip, she could see a spear head slowly raise from the ground. It waved gently side to side, two times. In response, the small girl used hand signals to her party, preparing them for the attack. And then she heard Nupa's war whoop and the eight of them surged forward, hollering at the top of their lungs as they 'hunted' the dogs.
The puppies scattered in clumsy surprise, yelping in fright at the sudden cacophony about them. The boys and Cinksi pretended to thrust spears into them as the trio scampered away. Their mother, a mean spirited animal by most of the camp's definition, got hold of one boy's spear and a tug of war ensued. Eventually, the remainder of the hunting party had forgotten the pups, laughing at the antics of the boy with the spear as the dog growled and gnawed her way on the haft.
Nupa finally aimed a kick at her, to distract her from her chewing, and she pulled away to snap at his moccasin before trotting back towards her offspring. Once she was sure that all her pups were present and unharmed, she urged them away from the gaggle of attackers, keeping a watchful eye.
Cinksi threw herself down onto the grass, peering up at the deep blue sky. Most of the other boys followed suit. The only one remaining on his feet was the boy who was studying the damage to his weapon.
One boy pulled a waterskin from where it hung across his shoulder and took a long drink before passing it along. "I wonder how many buffalo my father took down?" he idled.
"Your father is a good hunter," another answered. "But my father and brother will kill more than him."
Nupa had his turn at the waterskin before handing it to Cinksi. "I had a dream last night. A vision."
That information garnered the attention of the group, several sitting up to peer at the oldest boy closely.
"What did you see in your vision?" Cinksi asked, intrigued.
"My father, Sape, killed two bulls. Your father," and he nodded at the girl beside him, "killed a bull and a cow." And then he went around the circle and pointed to each of the boys, informing them how many kills their fathers and brothers had made.
One boy looked suspicious. "Are you sure it was a vision, Nupa?"
Indignant, the older boy puffed his chest out. "Want to bet on the outcome of the hunt?" When there were no immediate takers, he said, "Unless you believe my vision was a true one."
"I bet my spear that you are wrong," the smallest boy said with a stern expression.
This seemed to be the catalyst and each child began making bets of their personal items and toys. Those who believed in Nupa's vision put up their items to back his. The spear that Cinksi's father had made her two moons ago was bet in support of her friend.
There was the sound of a horse and Nupa rose to his feet, he being the tallest to see over the small hollow and tall grass they were lying in. "There's a rider! The hunt must be finished!" He looked down to the pack, excitement in his dark eyes. "Let's go see if I am right!"
The eight of them stood and trotted towards the camp that was now humming with industriousness.
Once word of the hunt being finished reached the camp, the women and older girls gathered their knives and other accoutrements. All members of the camp proceeded to the killing fields with an excited buzz. They soon began picking over the corpses of the huge animals that had been slain by their warrior husbands and sons and brothers, identifying each by markings on the arrows and spears that were used to kill them.
The boys all gathered with their older male family members, as the excited tales of the hunt began to be discussed. Soon, as the women and girls worked in the field skinning the great beasts, the men were sitting at the council fire, smoking pipes and filling the boys' ears with stories.
Cinksi hung on her father's every word as he described waiting on the ridge above the tiny valley. She could almost feel the dry wind as her father received the signal to attack and swooped down on his pony to harry the herd.
The buffalo had been startled, initially milling around in surprise at the sudden danger before finally settling on a course. They had stampeded and the sounds of their hooves on the hard packed earth were like the thunder in a stormy sky. Her father had pulled his horse near a well grown bull and had let his arrow fly. The buffalo had stumbled and fell to its death as he continued on to his next likely target. The second was a pregnant cow that hadn't die immediately. Her father had stopped his chase and put the cow out of her misery, a dangerous task as the wounded animal thrashed in terror and pain. By the time that was finished, the hunt had been completed, the remainder of the herd stampeding off.
As the stories trickled through, some of the older girls began arriving with the raw livers of their kills. Cinksi's eldest sister trotted up with a breathless smile and handed three of the livers wrapped in a skin to her father with an exuberant smile.
Wanbli Zi took his delicacy, thanking his daughter. He settled the bundle on the robe he was seated on and pulled a knife of obsidian form the sheath hanging around his neck. With great care, he sliced the two larger livers into chunks and passed them to others around the fire even as they did the same with their own prizes. The liver of the animals were strong in spirit and endowed the Lakota hunters with strength and courage. In this way, all the men of the camp could partake of the spirit, even the elder council members who did not participate in the hunt.
The smallest liver, that from the fetus held within the cow Wanbli Zi had slain, was held up in front of Cinksi. The warrior looked down upon his youngest daughter with grave intent. "This is the liver of the unborn tatanka whose mother was killed by my hand. Tonight, we will all feast on it after it has been boiled."
Cinksi's eyes were full of love and adoration as she listened avidly.
"Today, however, I give this liver to you, my cinksi of the heart, so that you may grow strong and brave." And the warrior handed the small organ to his daughter.
The girl's dark eyes widened in surprise. "Thank you, Ate," she murmured with delight in her voice. She received the meat and bit into it, savoring the saltiness of the fresh blood, the tenderness of the organ's texture. Cinksi could almost feel the surge of energy from the unborn buffalo's spirit fill her as she finished her treat. And then another warrior was speaking, telling his tale of the hunt and all eyes were on him.
And so the late morning went. After the women had finished their duties of skinning the animals and slicing up the meat, everyone in the camp returned to where the carcasses were laid out and helped transport them back to the camp. By the early afternoon, the hides had been staked out and meat was cut into strips to dry in the sun. The atmosphere was one of happiness and excitement, as the camp prepared to feast that evening.
There was a creek nearby that the warriors cleaned themselves in while the shaman, Inyan Ceye, was off seeking a vision. Cinksi ran off after the pack of boys as they scampered off to reenact the hunt as they had heard it. The women and girls had already cleaned themselves of the butchering and were beginning to roast meat or tan the hides of the buffalo.
"Nupa!" the girl called. "You were right! My father did kill a bull and a cow!"
This brought the attention of the other boys. They all considered what their fathers and brothers had told them of the hunt, comparing it to what Nupa had seen in his vision the night before. Eerily, the eldest boy was correct in all of his accounts.
"You should be a shaman," a boy said, his dark eyes wide. The others agreed with him.
Nupa shook his head in scorn. "No. I do not wish to be a shaman. It was just one dream. Nothing more."
"Maybe we should start our own society from your vision," Cinksi suggested.
Around her, the boys gave their heartfelt approval to the idea.
"We could create a ritual and a song," one added.
Another boy spoke up, fingering the feathers on his spear, "And a special dance."
As the pack bowed their heads together, ideas filling the air around them, a thunder could be heard in the distance. It took a few moments for any of them to notice, until Nupa suddenly sat upright and said, "Wait! Listen!"
The thunder grew louder and the reverberations in the ground under their behinds signaled something moving closer. Most of the pack stood and peered around, searching for the source.
It was still light out, the end of summer allowing for the long daylight yet. The warriors of the camp had noticed the approaching riders, as well, and were up and ready for whatever came their way.
In the distance, a group could be seen approaching on their ponies. As they came closer, their appearance became one of the Lakota band under the chief, Zintkala T'e Zito. They came from the south, but circled around the established camp until they reached the eastern entrance. There they rode into the cleared area, a group of seven warriors, none of them looking particularly happy.
As the party had entered through the proper entrance of the camp and the two bands were not at war, most of the warriors relaxed a bit. But their weapons were still kept close at hand. The pack of younger boys and Cinksi came pelting back into the clearing to watch the proceedings.
The obvious leader of the party glared down from his pony.
Their own chief, Wagmiza Wagna, approached with a welcoming smile on his face. "Please! Come to our feast this night! The great wakan tanka has blessed this camp with great bounty and we would enjoy it with the brave warriors of Zintkala T'e Zito!"
"Hoh!" the new arrival spat. "Your people have chased away the tatanka that we were preparing to hunt. We will not eat the meat offered from thieves!" His pony pranced around in response to the rider's agitation.
Wagmiza Wagna sobered at the insult, his face becoming stone. He cast warning looks at the younger warriors of his camp who bristled in response. "No man owns tatanka. The meat cannot have been stolen from you and yours. Had we known you were in the area, we would have offered to hunt with you."
"That is not acceptable! We will return to our people and seek a vision of war." And with that pronouncement, the leader whirled his pony around and raced out of the camp, his party of warriors following, whooping and hollering.
Cinksi watched the old chief sadly shake his head. A peek at her father and she could see a face comprised of worry and anger. "Ate?" she asked, reaching up to tug on the end of his shirt.
Wanbli Zi looked down at his daughter, the expression faded to one of love. "Yes, Cinksi?" He placed a large hand on her head, caressing the thick, dark hair.
"Are we going to go to war?"
His dark eyes looked up, into the distance where the riders had ridden off to. "I do not know, Cinksi. We shall see."
It was the noise that woke her up. Bleary eyed, Cinksi sat up in her buffalo robes and rubbed her eyes. To her left was her father who was also rising, albeit with more energy. As he scooped up a spear and headed for the tiopa, the girl's mother was getting up, a dress being pulled over her head as she spoke rapidly to her three children.
"Wake up! Wake up! We are being attacked!"
Galvanized, Cinksi dived out of bed, still wearing her breechclout and grabbing for her own spear. Her heart beat a tattoo in her rib cage and fear was an icy trickle down her spine. As her older sisters both dressed, she dashed for the tiopa, ignoring the warnings of her mother.
Peeking past the leather covering, she saw the camp in a turmoil. Ponies were kicking up dirt in the central clearing, their riders howling and attacking her people as they ran about. Women and children were running away and the men were standing and fighting their attackers, who were painted in garish colors that could be clearly seen in the early dawn.
Cinksi saw her father standing before the tent in nothing but his breechclout, his long hair flying as he reached out with his spear and unseated an enemy. He clubbed the other man who sank into unconsciousness before tossing a look over his shoulder and seeing his youngest child.
"Cinksi! Protect your mother and sisters!" Wanbli Zi yelled. And then he turned back to parry another attack from someone else.
The girl could see several of the ti ikceyas were being brought down by the horsemen. Embers from the banked fires were scattering like fireflies under the ponies hooves.
Even as she watched, a face painted with streaks of blood red seemed to rear up in front of her, leering. Cinksi yelled in surprise and automatically thrust her spear at her attacker, scratching his face. As he cried out in pain, she scrambled backward into her mother's lodge.
Behind the man, Wanbli Zi turned and saw him. Within seconds, his spear was imbedded in flesh, turning red with blood.
Inside the ti ikceya, Cinksi's sisters were huddled at their mother's side. She prowled near the doorway, not sticking her head out of it again. It was frightening, the not knowing, but her father had given her a task and she would die doing it.
Above her there was a whipping sound and she looked up. The top of the lodge was ominously moving back and forth. As it toppled from the rope that had been thrown around the poles and pulled by a horse, she pounced on her family, shielding the youngest of her siblings with her own body.
There was a loud crash and a scream near her ear. A heavy weight thudded too close for comfort, grazing Cinksi's arm, and then buffalo hide was suddenly surrounding them. Followed by silence that was broken only by the attacking party's whoops as they raced away.
Cinksi gingerly raised her head, trying to see through the buffalo hide that was the ti ikceya. The younger sister was beneath her, crying, and she could hear her mother trying to get out from beneath the stifling weight.
The girl moved, trying to increase her range of motion. She was able to succeed and found she could move her spear. Just a little bit. With steady pressure, Cinksi edged the spear to a place against the hide, hoping to cut an opening since her knife was still at her sleeping area. All the while, she was murmuring encouragement to the sibling beneath her.
As she worked, she could hear her father's yell as he called for his family. Her mother responded, guiding him to where they were huddled. Other voices could be heard, the men gathering to help remove the large logs that were pinning Wanbli Zi's family beneath the hide.
And then they were free. And Cinksi was helping her younger sister from where she was cowering. She could see her mother fighting through, crying, blood on her arms though there was no wound.
Cinksi's eldest sister did not come out.
The wind was blowing gently, rustling Cinksi's hair which had been cut short in mourning. She stood next to her father as they regarded her elder sister's burial. Her mother and sister had already left, wailing in misery at their loss.
Wanbli Zi looked down at his youngest child and felt pride fill his heart. He was sure that, had Cinksi not thrown herself across her sister, there would be two children dead. "You are a very brave wicincala," he said. "You protected your sister from harm."
Cinksi's dark eyes were wet with tears and her lower lip was pouted out. "But, I could not save my cuwekala," she sniffed, grasping her father's hand. "Maybe if I had done something else....?"
The warrior crouched down in front of his daughter. "No warrior can save every one who is in danger. Not even ones you love, Cinksi. And no warrior should question what is past. To do so will make you crazy with pain and grief. What is done, is done." He pulled her into an embrace. As she nuzzled his chest, her sobs becoming audible, he said, "I think that everyone in the camp is proud of what you have done, putting yourself into danger to save your sister. You have a true warrior spirit, my cunksi. For all of your seven winters, you are stronger and braver than most men."
Cinksi let her father's words wash over her as she mourned her elder sister's passing. To herself, she vowed, I will always protect my people from harm. I will always strive to be stronger and braver than most men. And then she thought, I will be like my father.
The sound of hooves approaching garnered Cinksi's attention. She looked up from her task, braiding leather and hair together with three small feathers, to see her friend. Nupa was considered a warrior now at fifteen winters, a man. He carried himself tall and proud in his saddle as his pony trotted closer.
"Hau, Cinksi!" he called as he neared.
The girl grinned and waved at him, tucking her project back into a pouch and jumping from a rock to her own pony. She noticed several other young men riding closer, relieving the older children of their duty to guard the herd of ponies as night grew closer.
They pulled up short next to each other.
"How was the day?" he asked with a smile.
"Bad. Nothing happened."
Nupa laughed, his voice still sounding strange to the girl's ears now that it had lowered. "Nothing happening is a good thing, Cinksi!" he insisted.
"Not if you were out here," she grumbled good-naturedly. Glancing at the other riders who were out of earshot, she asked in a low voice, "Do you know when we are to reach summer camp?"
"The elders say sometime in the next two days." Nupa scratched idly at one of the scars on his chest. "Are they going to allow you to do the Sun Dance?"
Cinksi hung her head. "Hiya. The elders say I am wicincala and only hoksila can do the Sun Dance."
Her friend's face frowned in sympathy. "I am sorry, Cinksi. You, of all of us, should be able to participate in the Sun Dance. You are the bravest warrior I know!"
The girl shrugged slightly, spirits raised a bit at her best friend's praise. "I will seek a vision when I reach my womanhood," she avowed.
"That would be good. And then, no elder can deny you." Nupa looked around at the change of guard. "Go home, Cinksi. Your mother is making a stew. I almost stopped at her lodge to eat before coming out here."
Cinksi chuckled. "I am surprised you still live with your own mother. You spend so much time with mine." She dodged under his expected swing and brought her arm around to touch him on the back as she kicked her pony forward. "You are slain!" And then she rode away. Fast.
It was a common belief among the tribe that Cinksi and Nupa would marry. They had been constant companions from the first, stirring up trouble wherever they set their minds and leading the pack of boys to all sorts of altercations. However, both of them had already decided that this would not be the case. He had no interest in marriage and knew that she would turn him down if he asked. Nupa wanted a woman like his mother, not to live with another warrior. And Cinksi couldn't even conceive of doing women's work, not even for her best friend.
The pair found the assumption amusing, however, and played it up upon occasion - becoming doe-eyed towards each other before suddenly bursting into an argument that would cause the both of them to tumble to the ground, wrestling. As time went on, Nupa was winning far less frequently and Cinksi's strength was growing. The elders would simply shake their heads and smoke their pipes while the younger members of the camp would bet on their favorites.
Cinksi arrived at her mother's ti ikceya and jumped off her pony. She stopped to scratch the reddish brown horse on the forehead before turning him back towards the herd. With a gentle slap on his withers, the pony trotted back the way he came, heading for the remainder of the herd and good grazing. The girl watched him go with great fondness.
He is getting older. Not as young and spry, she mused as she turned towards the lodge. I will need another soon. She remembered the day her father had presented the horse to her - a reward for her bravery in saving her sister. It still saddened her that she hadn't saved her eldest sibling. But her spirit is free now.
Cinksi moved to the firepit that was being utilized in front of the lodge and settled down.
Her father was seated to her left at the fire, the tiopa of the lodge at his back. Wanbli Zi glanced up at his youngest, flashing her a quick smile before returning to fletching an arrow.
Two women were across the flames from Cinksi. The younger one appeared to be no older than Nupa, a beautiful girl nearing full maturity. And sharing many characteristics with the youngest daughter of Wanbli Zi. The other woman was older and resembled them both, with hair turning gray like her man's. Both of them were bustling over the fire and a wondrous aroma was wafting towards the young girl, causing her stomach to rumble.
The elder woman filled a bowl with stew and handed it to Wanbli Zi who made appropriate noises of gratification as he set his arrow aside. A second bowl was brought to Cinksi.
"Thank you, ina," the girl smiled, accepting it. "It smells very good." Cinksi immediately dug into the repast with a great show of enjoyment.
"How were the ponies?" Wanbli Zi asked as he ate.
The girl shrugged. "They are fine. The travel has done them good. That fat pony of Hwa's has even lost some weight." Looking up from her bowl, Cinksi commented, "My pony's getting old. I will have to find another."
The man nodded solemnly. "Perhaps at the summer camp. You will have to train your own this time."
"Do you think I could trade for it?" she asked, finishing her stew.
"Possibly. You might want to wager instead. Or race or wrestle. You do all these things well." Wanbli Zi watched his youngest fondly as she held her bowl out to her sister to be refilled.
"I will do that, then," Cinksi decided. "Nupa says we may be at summer camp within two days." She watched her sister blush at her friend's name and grinned. Perhaps Nupa will be my brother-in-law!
"It will be good to have a rest from our travels." The warrior finished his own meal and, in an exact echo of his daughter's gesture, he held the bowl out to his woman for more.
And so the evening went. After the meal, Cinksi's mother and sister cleaned up and proceeded to work on their own projects. The elder woman, Waniyetu Gi, was involved in resewing a pair of moccasins that had worn through a seam. Her daughter, Hca Wanahca, was grinding a bone needle to a point on a well worn rock.
Wanbli Zi, finished with the fletching of his arrow, rose to his feet. He nodded at Cinksi, who stood as well, and the pair of them drifted over to the main fire where the men of the camp were gathering. There, the men smoked and talked, telling stories and singing songs. Many of the older boys were there, listening, learning.
Eventually, the hour grew late and the fire was allowed to burn down. The men drifted off to their women's and mother's ti ikceyas for the night. Tomorrow they planned to be up early and on their way, one day closer to the summer camp.
Cinksi ducked into the lodge and glanced about. The firepit was in the center, her father's robes across it and opposite the door in the respected place. Her mother was already rolled up in the robes, awaiting her man's arrival. To the right, Hca Wanahca was pulling a wooden comb through her long hair.
The younger girl averted her gaze, visually avoiding the area as she stepped over to her own sleeping robes nearby. Living in a ti ikceya with a number of people, avoidance was a common practice within. It was the only way to guarantee privacy. Respectfully, the younger girl's family returned the favor and did not look towards her as she pulled off her shirt and prepared for bed.
For a long time, Cinksi lay in her robes, her hands behind her head as she gazed up to the juncture of several logs that was the top of the lodge. Soon we will be at summer camp and there will be a Sun Dance. She thought of the men who would be attempting the Sun Dance this season.
Last season, Nupa had vowed to do the Sun Dance when he had survived a sickness through the winter. Others who felt that they needed to prove themselves to the spirits or show their appreciation for their help would do so this season. Cinksi knew of three here in camp who would be participating as dancers. But none of them will be me, she thought mournfully.
While the Sun Dance was not written in stone, changing and evolving fluidly over the seasons, the one thing that appeared constant was the fact that no wicincala had ever danced. Cinksi had begun to wonder exactly what she could do should she call upon wakan tanka for assistance and receive it. There has to be some way to show my gratitude. Maybe I will be able to talk the shaman into allowing me.
Cinksi drifted off to sleep, hearing the drums and songs of the Sun Dance, feeling the sun on her face as she danced, feeling the tug of the ropes where they were attached to her shoulders and back.
Cinksi awoke in the pre-dawn hours of the morning. All was silent and peaceful, the sun not yet beginning to grey the sky. She rolled over onto her side and brought her arms around her middle. Her belly ached considerably, feeling as if someone had put a rope around her and was pulling it tight. The pain came and went, cramping.
Unsure of what was happening, she worriedly considered calling to her mother, asking for the medicine man. And then a fresh cramp hit unexpectedly and she moaned a little. She rocked in agony until the pain let up.
There was moisture between her legs. Did I wet my robes? she wondered, her fears gaining ground. I haven't done that since I was a baby! Cinksi's hand delved beneath her breechclout, feeling a heavy slickness. Pulling her hand out, the embers from the firepit showed only a dark stain on her fingers. The girl squinted in the dim light, trying to understand just what the substance was. And then they widened as she understood.
I am bleeding! she thought. Another cramp hit her and she moaned again, her heart pounding in fear. I am going to die! Once the pain subsided again, she struggled out of her robes, crawling towards her older sister, to wake her, to get help. I do not want to die!
Hca was rousted from sleep by a frantic little sister. There were whispered words as Cinksi explained what was happening and that she was going to bleed to death. When the older girl comprehended the reality of the situation, she urged the younger back to her robes. "I will take care of you, mitankala, she whispered.
Cinksi did as she was told, wondering why her sister did not wake their parents, did not call the medicine man and the shaman. She watched in pain as Hca slipped her dress over her head and moved away from her bedding to rummage around in the herbal stores their mother kept.
"Here," Hca murmured as she returned. She handed her little sister a root. "Chew on this while I make a tea for you. It will help with the pain." The older girl kindly caressed Cinksi's head and smiled. "It will be fine. Trust me. You are becoming a woman now." She then moved to the remains of the fire and stirred up flames to heat some water.
Chewing on the root, Cinksi watched, frowning. I am becoming a woman? This is the bleeding time? Many questions filled her mind regarding this new insight and she resolved to ask her sister and mother about them as soon as possible. Another wave of pain hit her and she gasped and rocked.
Hca returned a few minutes later with an herbal tea to help with the pain. She insisted that Cinksi drink it all before it cooled to get the healing benefits from the herbs. Hca then gave whispered instructions on what to wear, helping the younger girl put on the necessary items to contain the bleeding. Afterwards, she held her sister's head in her lap, caressing her hair and crooning a soft song that their mother used to sing to them when they were babes.
The pain backed away and the younger girl relaxed, a weariness stealing over her. She drifted off to sleep with a lullaby in her ear.
Cinksi carefully placed the sacred bundle in the branches of a tree near the summer camp. She murmured a prayer to the spirits, asking for a vision of her adulthood before she climbed back down and settled at the base of it.
It had been a week since she first began bleeding. The camp had made it to the summer place a day later and she had spent quite a bit of time with her sister and mother. Apparently, Wanbli Zi had been informed of the new state of affairs with his youngest daughter and had stayed away.
For a while, Cinksi was worried that she would have to give up her path and become a woman, but that had not come to pass. She was taught by the women of her camp the ways of the bleeding - how to protect against the painful spirits that invaded her belly when it happened, what to do with the soiled clothing used to capture the fluid that flowed from her. Hca had eased her mind by telling her that the pain only lasted a day or so with herself, dissipating to a dull discomfort rather than the aching cramps.
And now, Cinksi was doing as many young women did with their first bleeding. Attempting a vision.
I do not see how a vision can come to me, she mused with a frown.
Cinksi was on a small hillock that had a stand of trees on it. Beneath her was the summer camp, laid out in all its splendor. The pole in the center of the clearing was where the Sun Dance would be held in two days and the entire camp was buzzing with excited preparations. From here on the southern edge the girl could see her own camp's settlement.
According to tradition, a girl's first bleeding was put into the limbs of a tree and the girl was to sit at the base for the day. A vision was supposed to come to her if she should be worthy of it. But how can I be worthy of it? The hoksila have to sit for days to receive visions from the spirits. How can the spirits deem me worthy if I am not willing to sacrifice more to achieve a vision?
The doubts swirled around in her head as she sat and watched the camp's activities.
The shaman, Inyan Ceye, looked up from his work. He was sewing a small pouch made of fox fur. Before him stood the youngest daughter of Wanbli Zi. "Hau, Cinksi. Please, sit with me." He set aside his task and smiled warmly at the girl.
Gingerly, Cinksi sat to the left of the shaman and in the honored place. She frowned to herself as she considered what to say.
Inyan Ceye kept his counsel, knowing the girl needed to come to terms with whatever she wanted. He had seen her on the hill a few days earlier and had surmised why she was there. But she needs to ask for herself. She must be strong for herself.
The silence continued for some time. It seemed to grow more comfortable as the sun moved across the sky rather than distressful. Cinksi mulled over her reasons for approaching the shaman, finally speaking up. "Wicahcala, I would like to seek a vision."
The shaman nodded solemnly, his suspicions confirmed. "You did not receive one on the hill?" he asked.
Cinksi blushed and ducked her head. "Hiya, wicahcala. I did not." She appeared to almost speak, but held back.
"Tell me your thoughts, Cinksi," Inyan Ceye said. "I cannot help you if you do not."
Her face flushing further, the girl said, "I do not see why the spirits would give me a vision that way, wicahcala. I did not seek a vision as my father did or his father before him." She shrugged a little and stared at the firepit before them. "I know that I am not hoksila, but I feel the spirits would want me to seek a vision as the other hoksila have. If I am to be a warrior, that would be the only way the spirits will speak to me."
The shaman nodded with the same serious intensity. Again silence filled the immediate area as they both contemplated this turn of events. After some time, Inyan Ceye spoke up. "Then I must instruct you on seeking a vision, Cinksi, so that you might hear what the spirits have to say to you."
The girl looked up in surprise, a glow in her dark eyes. "You will help me, wicahcala?" she asked, her voice almost a whisper.
"Hau, Cinksi. Now, go. I must prepare to teach you the way."
"Ohan, wicahcala!" The girl jumped up, failing in her attempt to temper her excitement. "Thank you!"
"Do not thank me, young warrior," Inyan Ceye intoned, though his dark eyes sparkled with humor. "It is you that must be clear and centered and able to receive a vision from wakan tanka." He shooed her away, happy to see the life return to her as she ran off. It had been disheartening to see her moping about the camp this last week.
The shaman inhaled deeply and looked down at the fur pouch he had been making. It is time to smoke a pipe and prepare the spirit banners. He set the project aside and rummage around for his pipe and tobacco.
Cinksi ducked out of the oinikaga tipi, her body slick from the sweat the heat inside caused. She was wearing only a breechclout and moccasins, as was prescribed by the elders of her camp. Outside the rounded lodge, she picked up a leather bag that she slung across her shoulders and a buffalo robe. These would be the only things she would take on her quest for a vision.
It was still dark out, the coolness in the air despite the season causing her to shiver. Cinksi pulled the robe tighter around her shoulders and moved into the darkness.
Time passed and soon the sun was high in the sky. The girl had removed the robe, not expecting to meet anyone out in the wilderness of the northern plains. Rolling hills rose around her and she considered which would be the proper place to make a stand for her vision. The warm breeze of summer caressed her back and she felt goose bumps arise at the oddity. She'd been forced to wear a shirt for the last two winters. It was good to be free of it as she'd been as a child.
Cinksi finally found a hillock that felt right and began to climb. Her stomach indicated that it was now nearing dinner as she reached its summit and looked around. This will do well, she thought with respect.
She removed the pouch and set it aside with the robe. As the shaman had instructed, she began clearing a patch of ground of all life. The area was longer than she was tall and as wide as her reach. When her chore was complete, she gathered the robe and pouch and stepped within.
Now, she could not leave until the spirits blessed her with a vision or until she gave up.
Cinksi began saying the prayers she had been taught by the elders as she opened the pouch. Carefully, she drew out four tiny bundles about the size of her thumb. Each was attached to the twig of the plum tree and had been made by the shaman for her quest. With further prayers, she stood the twig in the ground on the western side of the cleared area. And then the southern side, followed by the eastern and northern edges. These were the spirit banners and would help protect her from harm.
Next out of the pouch was a fur-wrapped pipe, a quantity of tobacco and a few other herbs. She gathered the herbs together into a small pile and also loaded the bowl of the pipe. The final thing from her pouch was a smoldering ember that had been kept safe in the hollow of an antler and fed bits and pieces of grass to continue burning. Cinksi lit the herbs, the sweet smell of sage and rosemary filling the air around her.
Using the ember to light the tobacco, she offered the pipe to the western sky. "Spirit of the West," she called, "I am Cinksi and I seek a vision." And she took a puff of the smoke, directing the excess cloud over her head, and waited.
Cinksi wasn't sure how long to wait. She'd been told by Inyan Ceye that she was to allow some time in between requests to give the spirits time to contact her. I cannot wait too long. My ember will burn out and I will not be able to complete the ritual. She debated this for some time.
Finally coming to a decision, she turned to the east and followed the same procedure, offering the pipe, calling out a request, smoking and waiting. This was followed by supplications to the Spirits of the North and South with the same results.
The girl sighed. Of course, it cannot be easy. The spirits need to see my resolve in this matter. She decided to take the next course of action.
"Spirit of the Sky, I am Cinksi and I seek a vision."
Frowning, Cinksi finished the ritual. She asked the Sun itself for a vision, its flaming soul beginning to dip behind the hills as the evening drew to a close. And then she asked the Earth itself for a vision, the final and most significant request. The girl finished just in time as the coal she was using finally burned out.
She crouched down in the clearing, face down on the ground. Cinksi wrapped her robe around her and concentrated on receiving a vision from the spirits.
It was the second night, moving into the third morning. About the only truly scary time had been the wolves howling nearby, but none had approached the girl on the hill.
Cinksi found it hard to continue focusing on her desire for a vision. Especially at first, when her every thought was on food and warmth. When she wasn't asleep, she was thinking of a vision, searching the area around her for a sign from the spirits. And none was forthcoming.
The girl was feeling a little dizzy from the lack of food and water. If she did not receive a vision soon, she would have to make the choice of dying here or giving up. It wasn't unusual for someone to return to camp after a vision quest without finding what they sought. But, Cinksi just couldn't believe that wakan tanka would set her on this path as a newborn and not speak to her.
Cinksi was currently facing the east. As the sun rose before her, it happened.
The Sun seemed to flare into a brilliant white light. The girl had to squint to peer at it, one hand raised to shade her eyes. As the light faded, she could see a cloud of dust rising and feel the ground beneath her shake at the stampeding of a thousand buffalo. They were running towards her position, led by the most sacred animal of all, the white buffalo.
Watching in dazed awe, Cinksi saw a warrior woman swoop in from the south, screaming her cry as she attacked the white buffalo with a spear. The warrior's hit was solid and the white buffalo was mortally wounded.
It seemed that the remainder of the herd simply disappeared, as did the warrior woman. The white buffalo staggered closer to Cinksi, blood pouring from its side and its nostrils flaring wide as it panted for breath. It fell just outside the cleared area and looked so real that the girl could almost touch it. The Sun flared again, and she lost the image, covering her eyes with her arm. The light faded and she looked again, only to find the white buffalo gone.
In its place was a strange woman with pale skin. Her hair was long, longer than Cinksi's, and a yellow the color of the Sun itself. Her eyes were the blue of a deep lake, still and clear. She was wearing the standard dress that all of Cinksi's women wore, buckskin and moccasins, her hair flowing freely in the breeze.
This strange apparition rose from where the white buffalo had been, blood pouring from her side where the white buffalo had been wounded. She walked gently closer to the girl staring at her in wonder. And then the woman put a hand to her wound, bloodying her fingers. She reached forward and brushed the blood onto Cinksi's face, two thunderbolts beneath the dark eyes. As the Sun flared again, the girl could see those brilliant blue eyes staring at her intently and hear the words whispered into her ear.
And then the light returned to normal. Cinksi looked frantically around for the woman or the white buffalo and found nothing. With shaky fingers, she touched her face. Again there was nothing.
Trembling, the girl gathered her pouch and robe. She needed to return to the camp, to ask the shaman to help her interpret her vision.
Cinksi sat anxiously as she awaited the verdict of those wiser than herself. Around the fire were her father, the shaman, and the medicine man. They had heard her tale and were now smoking in silence as they considered it.
It felt odd, but the girl accepted the pipe that was handed to her and she smoked with the rest, finally an adult member of the society that she'd been on the outskirts of during her childhood. It warmed her, as did the look of pride she could see from her father.
"It is a complicated vision, Cinksi," Inyan Ceye commented once the smoking was done and the ashes given to the spirits. "I do not presume to know what the spirits wanted you to know from it."
"I understand, wicahcala."
The shaman nodded. "To see the white tatanka, to see yourself slay it.... I would think that this was your future."
Across from him, the medicine man nodded too "Hau, Cinksi. And so the rest of your vision must be your future, as well."
The girl frowned, her dark brows furrowed. "But, the pale woman? Is she my future? And why did she call me mahasanni ki?"
"It is hard to say. She is a stranger to us. She must be a stranger to our ways. But she is involved with the tatanka." Inyan Ceye stared into the flames of the fire. "And you will hurt her as you did the white tatanka."
For some inexplicable reason, Cinksi's heart twisted in sadness to hear that.
"You have had a very powerful vision, wikoskalaka," the shaman said. "I think it is time you took a new name." He appeared to be in thought before he smiled. "You will be known as Wi Ile Anpo, as was in your vision."
The girl's father and the medicine man nodded in agreement, their faces happy. "Thank you, wicahcala," Anpo, who used to be Cinksi, responded.
Hca Wanahca (hajah wah-nah-hajah) - (Cinksi/Anpo's sister) nicknamed Hca
Inyan Ceye (een-yahn cheh-yeh) - (shaman) nicknamed Inyan
Nupa Olowan (noo-pah oh-loh-wahn) - (Cinksi/Anpo's childhood friend) nicknamed Nupa
Wanbli Zi (wahn-blee zee) - (Cinksi/Anpo's father) nicknamed Wanbli
Wagmiza Wagna (wah-gamee-zah wah-ganah) - Chief of Cinksi/Anpo's camp
Waniyetu Gi (wah-nee-yeh-too jee) - (Cinksi/Anpo's mother) nicknamed Gi
Wi Ile Anpo (wee ee-leh ahn-poh) - (a.k.a. Cinksi) nicknamed Anpo
Wi Sape (wee sah-peh) - (Nupa's father)
Zintkala T'e Zito (zeen-takah-lah teh-eh zee-toh) - Opposing Lakota chief in 1768 civil war