“So, you can talk French if you want to?” I asked.“Maybe,” he answered slowly. “I remember very little of it.”He paused, then said even more forcefully than before, “But I do not
to talk it. I talk only Lenape now.”I was still curious. “Did you know that man? How did you know he was French?”“Yes, I have seen him at the trading post. And I know him to be French by the gun he carried and that odd little hathe wore.”Smiling Beaver thought a moment, then chuckled and looked at me sideways. “Anyway, I could not call him a dirtydog in Yangwe because I do not know that language as you do.”I was a little surprised at this remark, since we had never discussed the fact that I could speak English.With that, Smiling Beaver stood up and began a quick pace downstream. We never spoke of that incident again. Butnow I had a new understanding of my young friend, and felt a new closeness to him. Could this be part of theconnection I felt with him when I first saw him after the gauntlet? Perhaps.The two of us ran back to the village in great spirits. A game of Te-hon-tsi-kwaks-eks, or LaCrosse, was underwayin the flat area near the river. The game was played with a stick about three feet long that ended in a sort of crook with a large, flat triangular surface of webbing; the ball was a fist-sized lump of deer hide sewn together. The objectof the game was to grab the ball with the stick and fling the ball at your own goal. Sometimes the game was playedwith two opposing teams, but this time it was a free-for-all. Smiling Beaver and I rushed to join in.As usual, the action was fast and hard. The young man with a limp was in the middle of it all, ferociously swinginghis game stick while attempting to capture the ball from his opponents. He was one of the toughest players in thevillage. He was very good at scooping up a loose ball with his stick, then doing a complete circle on his good legwhile using all his strength to fling the ball toward his goal.This was Mud Turtle, whom I had noticed playing the game on my first day with the tribe. When I first heard hisname, I thought it appropriate, for he reminded me of a slow-moving, dim-witted mud turtle. He seemed always to be on the verge of open hostility. He was indeed a member of the Turtle clan who called themselves Unami, or thePeople Down the River,
as were many in our village, ‘tho his fellow Turtles were as friendly as any in my own Wolf clan. Most of the Lenape chiefs came from his clan. Mud Turtle’s bad leg slowed him down when running, but itcertainly did not slow him at all in this game.Smiling Beaver had grabbed up a stick and was charging after the ball with Mud Turtle right behind him. I swung into try to deflect Mud Turtle and the others. The ball got loose from one of the boys and Smiling Beaver grabbed for it with his stick but Mud Turtle beat him to it, scooping up the ball with one fast, clean motion. I was running fast athim to try to kick the ball loose. Mud Turtle began his turn and I tried to duck out of the way, but to no avail. I wasalready off center when Mud Turtle’s stick hit me on the side of my head with a thundering blow.It threw me face-down in the dirt. Dazed and confused, I struggled to get up and out of the way, for the play did notstop. I lurched to my knees, then collapsed. Smiling Beaver glanced over, saw what was happening, and ran over tohelp me to my feet. Blood gushed from the left side of my face. I felt weak. With Smiling Beaver’s help I staggeredoff the field of play. As we left the area I saw Mud Turtle glance over at me with a triumphant smirk on his face. My blood ran hot.That was not to be my last run-in with Mud Turtle.“Racer, I believe you are practicing magic.”It was now many moons after the ball game. Monotowan and I were just returning to the village after a day triphunting for nuts. Monotowan, which means White Antelope, was a light-hearted soul who seemed always to belaughing and dancing. I believe she was two or three winters older than I, very pretty. In many ways she remindedme of my twin sister Hannah and I very much enjoyed her company.Mud Turtle was watching for us, standing astride the trail, looking fearful and blocking our way.“We do not allow children to do magic,” he said with a sneer. “Only the shamen can do magic.”I was dumbfounded. What on earth could he mean? And what was he hiding in his fist?