Authors note: CHEVEYO is a Hopi Indian name meaning "spirit warrior."
 
The Call Of The Meadowlark
           
             The warrior chief, tall and proud drew back the buffalo hide, revealing an opening in the tent wall. He paused, contemplating the supple leather and wiry hair. The hide’s distinctive smell, earthy and musky. Small memories sending visions of hunts past dancing across his mind.

            Eyes stinging, he stopped, momentarily blinded by a small fire casting scant light, yet in sharp contrast to the starry moonless night which enveloped him. Within this pause he again considered his decision to enter and hear the words. Why now does the elder summon me?  On the eve of battle!  Had not ‘all’ words been spoken around the fires of council?  What more should be asked and measured? Bronzed skin taut over muscles uncharacteristically tense, the chief bent and entered. 

            Burning mesquite, fresh cut sage, and the smell of the old one himself were at once familiar and calming, washing away much of his anxiety. Smiling lightly he took in the rest of the sights. A jumbled clutter of indistinct images; piled furs, broken weapons, cooking utensils, and the mangy long nosed dog beating motes of dust into the air with a crooked twice broken tail. And of course, the old one himself. He lay wrapped in pelts as close to the fire as was possible and not catch fire, only his face protruding from the mass of black buffalo hair. Such it is with the old ones, he thought, never warm. The warrior squatted, then sat on the bare ground across the fire. Waiting as was their custom. Waiting on the old one to acknowledge him and speak. Hoping the ancient figure did not sleep; else his wait would be long indeed. 

            The old one smiled a smile that did not touch his face. Very much awake and aware of the young man’s impatience. Such it is with our youth. Scurrying to finish their lives. Let him wait!  It is part of the lesson. 

            Shifting in irritation, the chief threw another stick on the fire, hoping the sound would rouse the elder. Yet he lay there as if dead. Even the dog looks dead!. Though it at least eyed him, hoping for a stroke or morsel of meat. Reaching into a pouch, he drew forth a bit of dried buffalo, took a bite and threw the rest to the dog. The meat passed halfway through its arc when the elder spoke.  

            “I wish… to tell you a story, Cheveyo.” Weak was the voice, the warrior straining to hear over the contented mastication emanating from the dog. He moved closer. 

            “I am here grandfather.” Ancient eyes opened, sparkling against the flames. Cheveyo stared at the face marveling at the familiar lines. One wrinkle for each of the old man’s years. Some shallow, some impossibly deep, each crisscrossed with scars from battles of spear and knife, attesting that this one had truly lived. Life and wisdom etched deep.

            Cheveyo shivered slightly. Tonight the old one may impart a great secret, one that would turn the sands of time and set destinies in motion. Cheveyo waited, hoping it would be true.   

            A slit of a mouth suddenly separated the wrinkles showing bright white teeth that seemed not to have aged with the rest of the man. “When I was younger…” he began, “Of an age close to your own, Cheveyo… I was given a task by the elder. One I felt beneath me.”
 
            As always with the old one, his speech was drawn out with many pauses giving the listener time to feel each thought. Cheveyo was confused. Will he give a task on the very eve of battle? War with the Bloody Knives? As a warrior he must follow the elder’s wishes. As Chieftain, he must refuse. A test?  

            “My task… to tend the birth of a child.” Cheveyo’s eyebrows rose in surprise. Here was a story not heard before and there was only one reason a warrior would be orders thus. The elder continued in a voice even softer, eyes now closed remembering that day so long ago.

            “The woman was weak… with the loss of much life water,” a breath, “and it was said by the elder… that the child would be weak…and deformed inside.” Cheveyo tensed, not knowing why. As if a dark spirit closed around him, pulling him down. A breath of air brushed his neck and a pop from the fire made him jump. He chastised himself, I am Chief! And a warrior! Shadows in the dark I will not fear

            With a deep rattling breath, the elder released another thought. “The babe was born and the woman died…. The old woman tending her, wiped the sweat from the dead brow… and smeared it on the lips of the child… bestowing the only essence of its mother it would ever know. She wrapped the child… and handed it to me. Her eyes sad… knowing my task would be… difficult.” The wrinkled opening sucked greedily, drawing enough air to speak again. His eyes opened staring hard at Cheveyo.

            “She was taken in a summer raid… then made wife to a great warrior. She had born children before this… but they were with her tribe.” Mixed blood!  Less than nothing to the people. Cheveyo was almost angry; he would have been with any lesser person. Why is this important? 
 
             He calmed himself. The elder never spoke without purpose.
 
            “I walked, Cheveyo… carrying the child toward where the sun would rise. Long did I walk waiting for the sun… for the babe was born in the deepest part of night.”
 
             Cheveyo felt tightness grip his chest; pride with horror. The elder performed a task from which any warrior would quail. Would I have his courage? 

            “At dawn, Cheveyo… I lay the little one on the cold ground. I tried not to look at it.  Tiny… and red… and even its screams were weak.” Cheveyo’s dread now centered on his heart. His mind vision merged with that of the old one, seeing the child and the muscled sun browned arm extending a knife.

            “I placed my blade at his throat.”
 
             He? Cheveyo wondered. 

            “As if knowing his fate… the boy stopped crying. Clear eyes stared at me. Loving and accepting.” A tear escaped the elders tightly closed eyes tracking down the furrowed cheek. Cheveyo felt deeply for the man. Yet this act was necessary for the continued strength of the tribe. The weak and deformed at the beginning of life simply required too much.

             “The muscles in my arm strained… preparing for the slice which would release the Great Wind from the young body.” His voice strengthened. “I looked to the dawn. My deed would be done as the Great Father peered over the rim of his creation.” Silence descended upon the tent, much like it had that day long ago when the entire world it seemed held its breath, waiting. 

            “The sun appeared as a thin line of fire, daring me to look into the heart of the Great Father...  In that moment, Cheveyo... I hesitated.” The old man opened his eyes capturing the younger. “In that moment I heard a sound that changed my heart. The single clarion call of the Meadowlark harkening the new day. New life.” The dog, sensing tension, whimpered. 

            “I sheathed my knife, Cheveyo. I brought the child home!” It was said in finality as if all were now explained.
 
            Cheveyo was shocked at this affront to all the traditions he held dear. How? Why?  He raged inside, angry and disgusted with this man who’d meant so much to him. Yet no clear thought would form and the question rolled out before he could stop it. It was a whisper, full of emotion. “What… What happened to the child?” 
 
            The answer was a lance through his heart. A withered hand emerged from the furs, grabbing his in a cold but shockingly firm grasp. “He kneels beside me now!”

            Cheveyo sat his horse in the cool dawn remembering an old man who had passed in the night. He was flanked by a line of warriors awaiting his command while across the field a similar band stood. The Bloody Knives!  The clan of my mother! Fury and despair warred within him. Today would see the end of this pestilence. Of their raiding and murder. Only one tribe would leave this field. No quarter asked, none given. Yet today Cheveyo desired something more. He wished to see his enemy. Close. He kicked his horse forward, the bells woven in its mane ringing, red war paint shimmering. Alone he rode to the enemy and alone the enemy chief rode to him. They stopped in the center of the field and stared. Each seeing a mirror of the other. My enemy. My brother! A great silence descended as if the world held its breath. Neither spoke, but Cheveyo was set to yell and rage to extoll the wrongs the Bloody Knives had visited upon his people. Yet the only sound between them was the single clarion call of a Meadowlark greeting the day. 

            His rage faded, carried away by the echoing beauty. His enemy stared in confusion. Cheveyo’s face softened and he simply whispered, “I wish to tell you a story… of our mother.”    
 
Gregory J. Saunders