This is a short excerpt from “The Tale of White Horse.” At this point in the story, White Horse is sixteen years old and, though she does not realize it, is living under the protection of the medicine chief Bear Talker. She has discovered that she is gifted in healing arts, but practices them in secret because it is forbidden for women to be healers. Late one night, she is called to the tent of the ailing Chief Twelve Spears, who reveals to her the secret of her parentage. And then…
As White Horse completed the healing ritual, turning the old man’s head from side to side, his breathing quieted, and the muscles in his neck fell slack. She looked into his eyes – they were open, but empty. His spirit had gone to Wyakin.
White Horse packed her bag quickly. With any luck, she thought, she could be out of the tent, down the ladder and a safe distance away before Red Coyote returned. But as she stuck her head through the tent flap, her heart sank. Red Coyote was there, smiling, leaning comfortably against the tent, right next to the flap. She had probably been listening the whole time.
“Well?” she asked, expectantly.
White Horse readied herself for the worst. ”He is gone. I am so sorry. ” Red Coyote did not move. Her face did not change. She continue to lean there, like a huge cat, and smiling eerily.
“I should go,” said White Horse, crawling out of the tent, climbing to her feet and taking a step to move around Red Coyote.
“Wait a moment, little witch.”
White Horse froze. Her worst nightmare was coming true. She fought to avoid losing control of her bladder.
Red Coyote stood straight and took a step toward White Horse, towering over her.
“Such a shame,” she said silkily, still smiling. ”He was the wealthiest man in the city, you know. So much to live for. But now he’s gone, and without an heir. Just like Chief Crooked Jaw, all those years ago.”
Red Coyote opened the tent flap and turned her head to peer at the dead man inside. ”He was my father, but I have no claim. He never married my mother, you see.” She turned back to White Horse, that bone-chilling smile still painted to her face. “But you have a claim, don’t you, little witch? To his fortune, and to Crooked Jaw’s! You must be the richest little Eagle girl there had ever been! The lusty boy who cracks open your little joy box is going to find quite a treasure inside, is he not?”
She took a step closer, then lowered her voice and continued, “Bear Talker has done well to keep all this a secret. But now that you’re old enough, I would wager he is recruiting a beau for you as we speak, and negotiating a fine fee…oh, forgive me, an OFFERING to the mighty Medicine Chief,” she snickered, and the added craftily, “or perhaps he plans on plucking your fruit himself.”
With that, Red Coyote let out a laugh, a half-strangled cackle more horrifying than any made by the crazed fever victims White Horse had treated.
Mustering every ounce of her nerve, White Horse looked Red Coyote in the eye and said, “Even if what you say is true, the fortunes of Twelve Spears and Crooked Jaw can never truly be mine. They would belong to my husband, and I would be his property, along with everything else.”
“But is it not far more comfortable to be the property of a rich man than to be banished for witchcraft?” she asked. Then, adopting the singsong tone of a helpless waif, she continued, “My father was alive when she went into the tent. I saw her take the oils out of her bag, and then lay her hands upon him. And when she was done, he was dead!!!” Her blazing eyes and malevolent smile returned. ”Even Bear Talker wouldn’t be able to save you. You might as well leave right now.”
“But that is not what you want, White Horse replied, not quite able to keep the fearful quiver out of her voice. ”Otherwise, you would not bother to talk to me. What do you want from me?”
Red Coyote’s smile disappeared and her face became a mask of caged fury, like a bear in a trap, a trap not unlike the one White Horse was in. She took another step forward, looking down into White Horse’s face as she looked up into hers, their noses nearly touching.
“When you come into power,” Red Coyote intoned, “you will make an important place for me.”
White Horse was locked into Red Coyote’s poisonous gaze, unable to move or look away, barely able to think. But she managed to reply, “How could I? My husband would control everything.”
“Oh, but I look at your pretty little face and your pretty little body, and I think there might just be some ways you could influence the new master of the house.”
White Horse felt her face flush, but she still could not look away. Red Horse smiled again.
“I see you know what I am talking about. Good! I was afraid I might have to instruct you. And besides, your new master is likely to be a warrior, and you will only need to gratify him occasionally. Most of the time, we will have his house and his fortune to ourselves!” She was smiling again as she concluded, “So, when you are the lady of this house, I will be at your side. Say that it will be so.”
It will not save me, thought White Horse, but what else can I do. And what are the chances that such a thing could ever happen?
“I say that it will be so.”
“That WHAT will be so?” Red Coyote snarled, teeth clenched, face nearly buried in White Horse’s.
White Horse turned away, threw her hand up in front of the looming demon head of Red Coyote, and whimpered, “I say that when I am the lady of the house, you will be at my side.”
Red Coyote stood up straight. Her smile had again returned.
“Thank you,” she said pleasantly. ”Now, you may go.”
White Horse was unable to convince her feet to move for a few moments, but finally she darted past the towering presence of Red Coyote, crossed the platform, scrambled down the ladder, and raced home as fast as she could.
Copyright 2012 by Mud Toe Sasquatch – all rights reserved