He awoke lying on a bed, covered
in the softness of furs and blankets. His side throbbed with pain,
as did his arm, as did his head. He thought of his family, and the
emotions of the dream swept over him. This time he did not try to
keep the tears at bay, but weeping only made his head hurt more.
It swam and pounded. Pain sliced his arm at every move. His side...his
Slowly, it came back to him.
A battle, the sweet dust of gunsmoke, the wild ululation of Cheyenne
soldiers riding into heavy fire. The memory of bright sunshine,
hard spears of light glinting off the barrels of the cannon, the
concussions as he fired shells at the walls of the Army fort, the
marigolds of fire as they hit their marks. And then, nothing; nothing
except the pain. Breathing through the pain, talking through it.
Riding through it. Riding home to see Mouse Road. Riding to get
Home? he wondered. Home?
Thinking of his dream and the
family farm in Michigan Territory, he rolled over on his back and
opened his eyes a crack. His vision was still smeared and blurry,
but it was good enough to show that he was not back home in Monroe.
He was in a lodge, the firelight dim. Up through the smokehole,
the sky showed him a deep purple, but gave no clue whether it was
dawn or dusk. He heard the tick and snap of coals dying in the firepit.
He blinked. It hurt, but it helped to clear his vision, so he blinked
again. He saw the walls of the lodge in the dim light, saw a familiar
knife hanging from a lodgepole.
My lodge. My home.
He turned his head to look at
the fire and was jolted wide-awake. His heart stumbled and thudded
in his aching chest and he blinked again in spite of the pain.
Two men sat across the fire from
him, their skin so black it swallowed up the light. Blacker than
any Negro, George could tell that they were not colored men.
Their hair was straight, shiny-black,
and hung long and loose down their backs. Their features were those
of the People: broad of brow, long of face, with straight noses
and almond-shaped eyes. Like enough to be twins, they sat cross-legged
on the guest's side of the hearth, silent, staring into the orange
light of the fire's dying coals. They wore fringed leggings, beaded
moccasins, and decorated breechclouts, but remained barechested.
On their chests—so black—were white circles representing hail,
and on their arms were the jagged yellow lines of lightning. The
right arm of one bore a shiny scar where a lightning bolt should
They were not Negroes. If George's
guess was right, they were not even men. He had seen them before,
years ago it seemed, and only from a distance. He had described
them to Stands Tall in Timber, the People's spiritual leader. As
George stared at his two guests, the holy man's response echoed
in his mind.
I think the Thunder Beings
have taken an interest in you.
Thunder Beings. Creatures from
the Cheyenne spirit world. As he slowly forced himself up into a
sitting position, George considered the possibility that the old
chief had been right. He considered, too, that he might still be
dreaming—which seemed far more likely—but decided that it made
no difference. They were here.
he said in greeting. "Welcome to my home."
They smiled—sudden white teeth
in dark faces—and glanced up briefly before looking back to the
fire in polite though wordless response. Then, with the sign language
common throughout the Alliance, the one on the right—the one with
the scar on his arm—asked after his health.
"I am doing better,"
Good, the other signed,
and then they both stood.
"Wait," George said,
holding up a hand. "Is that all you came for? To see how I
Yes, the one signed.
asked. "Why are you care about me?"
The two spirit men looked puzzled
by the question. They sat down again by the fire. You are One
Who Flies, the first one signed. You rode the cloud-that-fell.
George remembered his trip in
the experimental airship and the storm that caused it to crash.
"That 'cloud' fell because you brought it down," he said.
"You brought it down, and you've been influencing the course
of my life ever since, haven't you?"
Yes. Of course.
George felt an urgency, a pressure
of events, and wondered again if this was a dream. "Is it over,
now?" he asked. "Are you done with me?"
"Why not? What's so important
that you keep me from living my own life?"
The dark men conferred with one
another in silence. What do you want that you do not have?
the first one signed.
George thought for a moment,
his head swimming with weakness, pain, and the odd dreaminess of
the encounter. The men across the fire from him sat patiently, hands
on their knees, waiting for his reply.
What do I want? he asked himself,
and as soon as the question was formed, he knew. The images from
his dream made it plain.
"I want my family."
Family, signed the other
one, and pointed toward the lodgeskin wall and the camp that lay
beyond it. Your family is here.
"Yes," George said
quietly, thinking of his neighbors and friends. He recalled his
ride home after the battle, pushing himself to continue regardless
of his injuries and his fear of death. He remembered the one thing
he wanted to see before he died: Mouse Road's smile. And when he
did, its sweetness had filled him. "Yes, I have a family of
a sort here," he said. "But there is another family I
left behind. I want to see them. I want to make peace with my father."
Long Hair, the first
one signed. Chief of the Horse Nations.
"Long Hair," George
agreed, embarrassed that even in the spirit world his father's reputation
rode before him. "But that is what I want," he said, feeling
his resolve solidify. "I have been your instrument for years
and now I want something in return."
You have nothing? the
other one signed, pointing to the doorflap.
"One Who Flies?" came
a voice from outside. The doorflap opened and Mouse Road looked
inside. "What are you doing up?" she said. She stepped
into the lodge, a burden of firewood on her back. Outside, the sky
had lightened with the coming dawn, and snow had begun to fall.
George looked at the two dark
men as she stepped into the family side of the lodge. He saw them
smile as they watched her put her load of firewood near the lodgeskin
wall. From the hearthside she took the last of the dry wood and
put it on the tired coals.
"I thought I heard you talking,"
she said as she tended to the fire. "Who were you talking to?"
George looked again at the dark
men across the crackling fire. Family, the first one signed,
and pointed at Mouse Road. He smiled at George.
The two men stood. The first
one stepped forward into the hearthpit. The fire's rising heat caught
him like a feather, a leaf, and he rose up through the smokehole.
The other one smiled. Family is important, he signed as
he, too, stepped forward to float skyward with the smoke.
"One Who Flies?" Mouse
Road asked. "Are you all right?"
George blinked, feeling all his
weakness and pain begin to return. "Yes," he said. "I
am just tired."
"Who were you talking to?"
"No one," he said as
he lay back down into his bed of furs. Mouse Road glanced at him,
concern overcoming her manners. "Truly," he said and smiled
to assuage her fears. "I am well."
She laughed. "You are not
well," she said. "But, I am glad to see you are feeling
better. Mother is making fry-bread. Are you feeling well enough
He tried to say that he was,
but he felt himself drifting away. Am I dreaming still? he wondered.
Mouse Road came over to him, and his vision was filled with the
beauty of her face.
"Maybe later," she
said as she pulled the covers over him. He felt her hand on his
cheek, and then, as warmth filled him once more, he slept.