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THE LORE OF THE BIRDS

by Joshua Allen

The leaves were dancing in the warm wind off the grassy

plain that day, long, long ago off the banks of a big river

people would come to call "Mississippi." In a village of small

teepees, a boy named Texoje squeezed his eyes shut and borrowed

courage from his dead mother, Tse, to bear what the winds were

bringing.

When Texoje opened his eyes his teepee still stood, the

same color it had been the day his mother had died, though

before she died its colors had changed with the seasons and the

moon as she painted it with the decorations only she knew how to
make. Texoje looked up to his chief, Changing Sky, who was

staring down at him.

Texoje stood. Only the leather skin hanging from his belt

covered his nakedness.

"Will you do it, Texoje of Tse?" Changing Sky asked. "Visit

the New People?"

"I'll do it," Texoje said, if only to show Changing Sky he

was brave enough to say it. If only for the hope that his mother

was smiling at him.

"New People" was the name most of the village had settled

on for the visitors. Supposedly, they lived across the ravine,

over the plain and on the other side of the river. It had been

determined the previous night at the sit-down with the men that

someone would be chosen to make this journey, crossing the river

at the nearest point, then move back up the river, following the

thick of trees on the banks until they found the New People

village. Changing Sky had sent everyone to bed with a promise to

make a decision on who the emissary would be in the morning.

As Texoje slipped through the woods near the village, he

tried to push away the other names people had whispered around

their fires all that night: Those With One Eye, Backward Ankle,

Inside-Out Heart. But the truth was only one person had seen the

New People, Little Grass Blade.


Texoje stretched when he reached the edge of the ravine,

limbering his muscles. He ran down and then up the sides of the

grassy ravine at top speed, his feet padding quickly so he

wouldn't slip and break a leg and become food for one of the big

brown puma that sometimes lived in the caves nearby.

People trusted Little Grass Blade's words just because his

father Big Plains had been a good hunter. Even though he was

only eight years old, Little Grass Blade's words sounded wise,

at least to the others.

When Little Grass Blade had come back to the camp

hysterical and shrieking stories that made no sense, people had

listened, even though his descriptions of what he had seen

contradicted themselves. He described the people, and said they

lived in a village of eggs from the Great Spirit, and kept

animals of all sorts in square hogans you could see through.

Texoje had chewed the words slowly, decided they didn't taste

right, and spit them back out. If these new people could live in

the eggs of the great spirit, then surely they had no need to

keep animals for food. And if the hogans had walls you could see

through, how would you even know they were there? Texoje knew

that Little Grass Blade was a born liar.

Texoje reached the river bank at the bottom of the ravine

and felt the water with his toe. The water was cold. He didn't

mind, because the sun was so big today it could have hardened
him like a clay pot in a fire. Texoje slipped into the cold

river water and swept his arms in front of him, pulling his way

through the current that pushed like a herd of buffalo at his

side. On the opposite bank, he checked that his stone hatchet

was still tied around his thigh. One of the long decorative

eagle feathers was missing, but everything else was in place. He

waited for his breath to return.

Texoje suspected that all that waited ahead of him was a

settlement of White Men, like Lah Doo, the trader they had met

who could almost speak like a normal person.

Or maybe this was a different kind of White Man. For all

Texoje knew, the White Man wore his knees around backward and

his heart inside out when no one else was watching. It made

sense. Why did they make sounds like their minds were broken if

they were people? On the other hand, that would mean Little

Grass Blade's story had been true. The truth was Texoje didn't

know what to believe at the moment.

So why had Changing Sky chosen him? The easy answer was

that no one in the village much cared if Texoje lived or died.

He could accept that. In the days since Tse, his mother, had

died, Texoje had felt more and more hatred toward the people of

the village, but only because he saw this same feeling on their

faces whenever he spoke or moved in a way they disapproved of.


These days, he didn't much care if he lived or died, so why

should they?

Something round tinkled out of the tree above him. Texoje

dug curiously in the mud until his fingers found the culprit. It

was a trinket, a yellow, shiny disk with a hole through the

center. It was one of the many things that Lah Doo had offered

them when he had come trading. Changing Sky had laughed when

he'd seen the worthless little lump of yellow rock. What worth

was it to anyone?

Texoje looked up into the tree, but saw no one. If a White

Man had dropped this, he was too small for Texoje to see. Texoje

stood and cursed at the trees. If the White Men were small

enough to live in trees and throw trinkets at him, Texoje would

squash them beneath his moccasins.

Texoje threw the trinket into the river, where it skipped

across the surface before sinking forever with a final splash.

He looked up at the tall oak behind him. "You'll never get it

now, Little White Man. You should know better than to play

tricks on giants!"

Texoje forced out a few loud laughs to show the Little

White Man he wasn't afraid. He loosed his hatchet from the

string around his thigh and struck the closest tree three times.

A long breath passed before the noise finally faded completely.

"Does that not hurt you?"


Texoje squealed and leapt back. His embarrassment mixed

with surprise and resulted in losing his hatchet in the mud

beneath a patch of what he always called stinging grass.

With no time to dig for his weapon, he readied his fists,

crouching so he could pounce, like the Puma did.

The source of the voice appeared from the tall grass. This

was the Little White Man who had thrown the trinket at Texoje,

he was certain of it. However, the man wasn't as small as Texoje

had imagined. The Little White Man also wasn't white. He stood

about as tall as Texoje's chest and was the color of raw buffalo

meat. The White Man was back on his haunches, like a rabbit

sitting up to look. His eyes were on short branches above his

head, like the eyes of the fat slugs Texoje sometimes found

slithering up the outside of his teepee.

Nothing about this White Man looked just right. Even still,

Texoje could see how foolish Little Grass Blade had been to

think this White Man was something to fear. Where were its

claws? Its teeth?

The White Man didn't even have a mouth, it had a dimple on

its face like a fire pit that moved when the White Man spoke.

"Why do you hurt yourself?"

"I struck the tree, White Man. Why did you throw your

trinket at me?"
The White Man reached for the place on the tree where

Texoje's hatchet had chipped a piece of bark away. Strings that

looked like the ones that hung off a buffalo's knee when the

woman were cutting out the good bones for needles emerged from

the White Man's hand and probed the tree's bare spot.

The White man turned its eyes to Texoje, who readied his

fists. "Tree?" the White Man asked.

"You don't have trees in your land?"

The White Man shook his head. "Do you not suffer when you

harm the living?"

Texoje lowered his fists. This could be a trick, though, so

he stayed crouched, propping himself up with a hand. "The tree

is not alive. You have to chop through its hard shell to get at

the living spirit inside."

The White Man's mouth changed from a fire pit to a shape

more like a teepee opening. "Yes, I suppose I understand."

Word sounded strange coming from the White Man's mouth,

like a sound heard from a Coyote far away, rather than from a

person sitting a few feet away. Texoje knew he could hear them,

but couldn't determine the exact source. Maybe the fire pit was

no mouth at all.

"What about the other people?"

Texoje sat down on the ground, so his eyes were almost even

with the White Man's. "We are the people."


There was another silence. "Are you knowledge-abled?"

Texoje flinched at the word. He had to think before he

could figure out what it was supposed to be. But its meaning was

a mystery. "What do you mean, 'knowledge-abled'?"

"Do you know that you will..."

Texoje waited for the end of the sentence. The White Man

looked away for a moment. He made a sigh that sounded like the

sigh of anyone from Texoje's village.

"You will die."

Texoje thought of his mother. She had fallen on a rock

during one of her times of walking with her eyes closed. Her

blood had fallen out the crack in her head and no matter how

hard Texoje had shaken and screamed in her ear, she had stood no

longer.

"I know."

"Then you are knowledge-abled."

"Then I am," Texoje responded, no longer happy with this

White Man, who had forced him to think of his mother's death.

"We were told you were not."

"The you are fools."

The White Man's fire pit turned into a teepee opening

again, then back to normal. Suddenly Texoje was sick of this

strange White Man and his face that didn't quite make sense. He

wanted to leave and just go back home and tell them he had seen
nothing and to forget he'd ever wasted his time out here by the

river. "Perhaps. A man LeDeux told us this."

"Lah Doo?" Texoje should have suspected that Lah Doo was

friends with these new White Men. He looked back across the

river. He felt tired, though the sun was still hanging red in

the sky. "It was he who gave that trinket, wasn't it? I hope you

didn't give him many furs for the trinkets. They are worthless."

"You are mistaken. It was we who gave him the trinkets."

"What did he give you in return?"

"He gave us some knowledge-abled people. Ones called 'dog'

and 'opossum.'"

Texoje laughed even harder. "Those are not people. Those

are animals. Animals do not have a spirit of their own. They

share a spirit among them." The new White Man certainly was no

smarter than even the ones in his village who couldn't get fish

from the water or corn from the ground.

The White Man's eyes drooped. The black spots in the center

turned circles. "Perhaps we should have spoken to you first."

"I don't want your trinkets." Texoje hoped that this would

end the conversation so he could leave. When the White Man

didn't immediately respond, Texoje stood. "I should have known

you were interested only in useless things like Lah Doo. I must

leave before the sun is swallowed by the ground."

"What would you have traded?"


Texoje mulled the question briefly. "I would have had a

rifle, to start." He looked at the White Man, whose eyes

remained up and aimed at Texoje. "And a big, beautiful horse."

The eyes were still upright.

"And a squaw. One more beautiful than Butterfly Wings,

whose teeth are crooked." He saw that the White Man's eyes

stayed firm. "That would have been a good trade."

"For this you would have traded us knowledge-abled people?"

"For that I could show you a whole village of knowledge-

abled people."

The White Man leaned back and folded the buffalo-knee-like

strings across his bulging stomach. "It is done. Take me there."

* * *

Texoje was impressed that the White Man could keep up with

his new horse just on foot. The White Man's legs were small, but

they worked well. Never once, even when they rode up steep slope

of the ravine, did the White Man complain. They followed the

ravine until the sun was nearly gone. Texoje's squaw said

nothing the whole way, and Texoje had never had a squaw to call

his own and did not know the words to make her known that she

was now his.

But when they stopped for the night, she got off the horse

first and busied herself starting the fire. Texoje was pleased.

He took his rifle out of the buffalo-skin pocket on the side of


the horse and played around with it. He had never actually seen

a rifle up close. He rubbed the shiny surfaces and played with

the little parts that made sounds he tried to reproduce with his

tongue and teeth, but couldn't.

He knew rifles could make a lot of noise and if the spirit

of the animals allowed, whatever you pointed it at fell down

dead, but he couldn't make it work, no matter how he spoke to it

or made its parts talk, so finally he put it back. There was

always tomorrow to figure it out.

The White Man surprised Texoje by sitting in the grass, out

of the reach of the fire. Texoje didn't ask the White Man about

this, or say anything. He had learned in his life that some

people had their way and you had to leave them to it or suffer

their wrath. When the sun was gone completely, the White Man

seemed to go away, though Texoje had a feeling he was still

right there.

Texoje was able to shrug off the White Man's behavior. He

had his horse, his rifle, and his squaw. If the White Man wanted

to wander off on his own, that was his concern. After the squaw

cooked them a few potatoes she had found growing on the slope of

the ravine, and they had eaten their fill, she came to Texoje

and touched him in a place no one ever had before, at least not

kindly. It made him feel strange, like she was tickling him but

he didn't want to laugh.


He had stood up and tried to hide what her touch did to

him, as he'd been taught when such things happened, but she was

pulled him back to the ground and kept touching and touching

until Texoje lost himself in the sweet music of her touch.

* * *

The White Man was sitting nearby when Texoje awoke. The two

of them, along with Texoje's horse, rifle, and squaw, started

off again. Texoje led the White Man along the edge of the

ravine, until it shrank and was nothing more than a trickle of

water running through a dark forest. The forest took all day to

cross, and when they emerged into the plains on the other side,

Texoje jumped down off his horse and tied it to a tree. He made

a motion for his squaw to stay. She smiled in a way that made

his heart flutter.

"Are we there, Texoje?"

Texoje put his finger to his lips. He crouched down low and

started toward a low hill. The White Man followed. At the top of

the hill, Texoje fell to his stomach and crawled. The White Man

did likewise.

Just over the hill, the village became visible. Texoje

pointed. "Ayuwha." The Sleepy People. His village called them

that because his village always caught them unaware, as though

they slept even when they were awake. They usually took their

horses, and food when they needed, but left the people alive to
live in their shame. His village had counted coup with them many

times without them ever counting coup in return.

"Ay-u-wha," the White Man repeated.

Texoje led the White Man back down the other side of the

hill. When he spoke, he whispered, "The Ayuwha know that they

will die, too. They are like my village, except they are slow

and weak. You can count coup with them right now if you want.

They don't like to count coup because they think it makes their

corn grow slowly." Texoje pointed to a patch of tall green

plants ripe with small ears of corn.

The White Man put his long arm-thing on Texoje's shoulder.

"We thank you, Texoje."

From the forest behind them emerged a large disk, shiny and

yellow, like the trinket the White Man had traded to the fool Lah

Doo, except much, much bigger. Bigger than Texoje's entire

village and with eggs embedded in it. The eggs that Little Grass

Blade had taken to be the eggs of the Great Spirit. Texoje

flattened himself on the ground, terrified.

The Ayuwha villagers came from their mud huts and ran to

their corn, covering it with their bodies.

The White Man's giant disk of gold approached quickly.

Texoje ran back toward his his squaw and his new horse, certain

that they had met the Great Spirit. Texoje froze at the top of
the hill. The horse was calmly eating grass while his squaw

picked blue flowers that were growing along the forest line.

Texoje turned. The Ayuwha villagers were gone. The giant

trinket kept moving, like a bird with no wings. It made no

sense. Nothing did anymore.

And it was his doing.

Texoje had destroyed everything that made sense.

Texoje looked back at his new horse and his squaw,

pleasantly unconcerned. But then, both had come from the White

Man, hadn't they? As far as he knew, the squaw and the horse

were tricks, White Men wearing skins of a squaw and skins of a

horse, like when Changing Sky sometimes wore skins of a buffalo

before a hunt and the others would boom the drums and the smoke

would hit you just right and you could almost imagine that

Changing Sky was a buffalo.

The squaw waved at him and even from here he could see her

smile. He remembered how she had touched him last night and

wonderful that had been. Another trick by the White Man?

Texoje turn and ran after the Great Trinket. He screamed.

"I want to come, too!"

But the Great Trinket flew away faster than he could see

it, up into the sky. Texoje stood there screaming until his

voice was gone. He was in the middle of the Ayuwha village. He

looked around. The Ayuwha people insisted on making hogans and


keeping animals and growing food like women. His village had

always laughed at them for that. The hogans were arranged in a

circle and in the middle of the circle was a square of dirt

where maise grew, fluttering now in the cool breeze.

The village was empty of everyone. The fires still burned,

but the people were gone. He double-checked all the hogans to

make sure.

The squaw and the horse were still where Texoje had left

them. He saw them as he crested the hill. Without a word, he led

them to the Ayuwha village. The squaw began to gather food from

the cooking fires.

Texoje sat in the dirt he stared at the impressions the

feet of the Ayuwha had left. Five toes on each foot, like him.

Were they dead now? Was that what the White Man's word

"knowledge-able" meant? Had he really been asking if Texoje

would kill an entire village?

Texoje didn't know. He spit in the dirt and formed it into

a ball. The ball of mud wasn't much, but he thought it would

fill in a crack on the smallest hogan, the one he would call

home. Maybe with the little ball of mud, he could start to put

the world back together and bring the Ayuwha back.

And if Texoje couldn't put the world back together, then he

would never, ever return home.


The End

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