By Fred Brown
Unega, a young warrior, fiercely painted, peered from the forest. His dark eyes focused on the man and woman who were talking in front of the log cabin. It was mid-afternoon and the sun cast long shadows, making the man and woman appear larger than they were.
The young Cherokee warrior moved quietly along a parallel line with the man and woman. His eyes never left them, but there was no sound from his movements as he slipped through the evergreens and large hardwood trees, some of which were as large around as some of the boulders in the mountains above.
“I won’t be too long at the meeting,” the man said, squinting up at the sun, and holding a hand to shade his eyes.
“Afterall this is Christmas. Get the children together and we will celebrate tonight at my return.”
Naomi, the woman, smiled at her husband.
“The last time you men met, it was two days before we saw you again. Please, John, you men deal quickly with whatever it is you must and get home soon. The children are excited about Christmas.”
John Gant, a rawboned Scotsman, looked at Naomi and shook his head.
“You know these meetings are important, woman. We are having a gracious plenty of trouble from the Indians, and we must ever be on the alert.”
Naomi nodded. She knew, all too well. Several cabins in the Cove had been burned recently by the troubles, which never seemed to cease, despite great efforts to have peace with the Indians.
“Yes, John, I know. But it ’tis Christmas. The children are eager for it. Return home as soon as you can.”
John Gant leaned down to kiss Naomi. At six feet, four inches, he was taller than anyone in the Cove. His height and natural abilities made him a Cove leader. He was always sought out when members of Tuckaleechee Cove, the place the Indians called Tikwalisti, met to discuss civil matters, or courses of defense.
The year was 1778. Very few families had ventured into this part of North Carolina, this lower end near the Old Fields where the Cherokee thrived. Between the war with the British and the Indians, it seemed that the whole countryside was on fire.
And, the Indians were becoming bolder and much more savage. John Gant, who was well-known and trusted by the Cherokee since he had spent many years in the South Carolina trades with them, was unable to quench their thirst for savagery. John understood the Indian frustration at the ever encroaching of the white man. He knew well that more and more people moving into the flush country on the frontier also meant more trouble for not only those who were already here, but also those on their way.
As he moved to shoulder his flintlock, Naomi caught his arm.
“John. Don’t let them talk you into treating with the Indians again. It is someone else’s turn. And, it is too dangerous now. And, remember, it is Christmas Eve.”
John Gant, his bright blue eyes glistening in the afternoon sun, cradled his longrifle in his arms and grabbed
Naomi around her slim waist. He looked squarely into her green eyes and, with that familiar Scottish brogue that rang with the genes of his Highland clan, chuckled.
“Naomi. Don’t worry. I’ll be returning forthrightly. I promise ye. It is not a long meeting they are a-wanting. I have already spoken to my friend, Jesse Adair. He says we have only a few things to discuss before our next long hunt, but it is an urgent meeting.
“Now, I must be off, or I won’t be back in time for some of your applecakes.”
John Gant cradled the musket and began the easy, long strides that had also given rise to his reputation of a man who could walk down a pack animal. He was almost into the woodline before Naomi waved a last goodbye.
Turning toward the cabin, she took a few steps and then looked over her shoulder.
John Gant had already melted into the forest and was gone, as if he had never been there. For a moment, Naomi Gant listened to the quiet around her. Her breath pushed smoked in front of her. It was only then that she noticed the cold.
But, it wasn’t the blue cold winter day that made her shiver. It was a feeling that she couldn’t shake from her shoulders that caused her to quiver until she entered the cabin and felt the warmth of the large hearth fire wash over her. John and Gabriel were playing in front of the fire. The sweet smells of deer stew bubbling in the large black iron pot over the fire caught her full as she moved toward the fireplace to check on the meal that would make up their entire Christmas feast tomorrow.
John Gant let the big musket drop to his right hand, catching it in the middle of the stock. From this position, he could quickly throw it to his shoulder and fire and reload in no more than 10 seconds, a feat he had practiced over and over again.
The large knife at his belt, the one he had made from hammered steel with its buffalo bone handle, felt comforting nudging against his side. The knife was well-known in the Cove and among the Indians because of its size.
It wasn’t quite as large as an old cutlass, but it was bigger than most blades on the frontier. John Gant, who had fought with his clansmen in Scotland before being exiled to South Carolina, was an expert fighter. He was a marksmen about whom everyone bragged and his use of the big knife had already reached legendary proportion.
Because of his dexterity in military affairs, he had been named to head the local militia, the home guard, and given the responsibility of forming the men to protect the Cove families while many others were away fighting the British.
John Gant had wanted to be among those going against the British to uphold the honor of his Highlandclan, but John Sevier, the most respected man on the frontier and the one everyone looked to as its leader, asked him personally to stay back and to make sure the Cove was adequately protected during the struggle with the British.
“The Cherokee have thrown in with the Crown. We will be fighting on two fronts. What you do here at home is just as important as what we do on the front line,” he had told John before leaving to lead the fight at Kings Mountain, South Carolina, where the men from the East Tennessee hills had gone to do what they could for the struggle against England’s treacherous policies toward the colonies.
It was a bitter thought, but John Gant came to realize over time that the homeguards were just as much in need as were the men battling the Redcoats. The Cherokee had been in a riotous mood now for some months. They were killing and burning with impunity. Just last week they has killed the Collins family and burned the cabin to the ground.
Two days before, the McAllisters had been scalped and left for dead. Their women had been taken off. Unfortunately, they were found later. It was not a pretty sight, since the Cherokee had killed in their tradition, no matter whether it was man, woman or child. It was still quite brutal.
As his thoughts turned to the meeting at Randolph’s Tavern, the hair on the back of his neck prickled. He, like most men on the frontier, had a sixth sense that were with them when they were awake as well as when they slept. Those who possessed the sense had the uncanny ability to tell when something wasn’t right, when a scene was out of place, or a sound that wasn’t natural.
John Gant pulled the hammer back on the flintlock, the one he called “Claymore,” and continued his sure-footed long strides up the animal trail. Soon, he would be to the creek and he knew that if he were to be ambushed, it would be before he came to the place the Cove people had begun calling Battle Creek, a place where the women did their washing with their battle sticks.
Once he crossed the creek, he would be in the safety of nearby cabins: the Johnsons, Carricks, Adams, and Campbells were within shouting distance of Battle Creek.
Just as he began to near the ridge top, the last rise before reaching the creek, he heard the unmistakable sound of a twig being broken. He knew that if it were an Indian, it was a signal to stop, otherwise, he never would have heard a thing. The Cherokee were quieter than animals in the forests. This he knew.
John Gant turned and staring him in the face was Unega. The stripes of warpaint streaking down his gaunt face struck a cold blow inside of John Gant. He knew this young warrior by reputation. He understood at once the meaning of the war stripes.
The two men stared at each other only briefly before John Gant spoke, making no move to his musket or the big knife at his side.
“Unega. I have heard of you. You are of the Blue People. I am honored to have known your chief many days past,” John Gant said in the language of the Indian he had learned from so many seasons on the trading trails with the tribes.
“Yes. I have heard of you as well. They call you Nunndihi, Pathkiller. I know you, Pathkiller.”
The young brave’s breath passed across John Gant’s cheek. It was cold. Not warm. He had been waiting for some time on the white man. Only a Cherokee, who from birth was thrown into the stream in the dead of winter, could endure the cold winters and be not bothered by it.
“Our elders say you are a white man we can trust. Our elders must see you.” Unega said.
John Gant eyed the Cherokee, whose name meant “White Man Killer.” He had an uneasy feeling about the Indian. It wasn’t that he couldn’t trust his word, for he had been sent to fetch him by the settlement’s elders, and he would not harm the white man until told to do so by the tribe’s old heads.
“You will come.”
It wasn’t a question, John Gant noticed.
John Gant nodded, indicating he would go with Unega to the Old Fields where he would meet with Hangingmaw and Doublehead, two of the most fearsome of Cherokee chieftains. Both were at war on the frontier with the white man and John Gant knew that this meeting had been called to discuss the future of pioneer settlements. The future of both the white man and the Cherokee.
Unega moved with the quietness of an owl. He made no noise as he walked. John Gant had no trouble in keeping up with the young brave, but he was still surprised at the stealth with which the Indian walked. Now he better understood why they were so successful at surprising the pioneers, many of whom were veteran Indian fighters. There was nothing to match this kind of familiarity with nature, for Unega moved in the twigs, brush and branches as if he were nature.
The two men ate up the ground, leaving the friendliness of Tuckaleechee Cove behind. John knew that he would be safe going in and leaving the Old Fields, but he would barely have time to return to signal a warning if his meeting failed to produce good results.
He wondered why now. Why had the chiefs decided to sit in council and smoke pipes now? They had been at war for the past two years with the pioneer families, burning, killing, scalping. It had been a bloody time on the frontier, despite treaties and despite John’s efforts to help the Cherokee and the fledgling government keep immigrants from moving into the lower part of North Carolina near Tanasi, the hunting fields held sacred by the Cherokee.
As they topped a ridge overlooking the Indian towns, John was struck by the number of roundhouses. There were hundreds. Many people had gathered here. Something was brewing for certain.
Unega stopped, holding out an arm in front of John.
“Before we go further, you must know that I did not agree with our elders to bring you in alive. But, you are known here and they wanted to talk. I am through talking with the white man.
“I will leave you now, John Gant. You can find your way into the settlement. When you finish with our elders, they will signal me. It will be that signal that determines whether you live or die.”
John Gant’s blue eyes flashed. He was not a man to scare easily. He looked straight into the Indians’ dark eyes, shaded and shrouded by the paint of war and the promise of death.
“I hope for your sake, Unega, that the signal is one of peace, for I will have no mercy on your soul should your elders fool me when I have come here under peaceful terms. I will reap a harsh vengeance upon you and your people should you or any of your clan take up arms against the people of the Cove.”
Unega smiled and turned without a word. He disappeared as if he were woods sprite.
John Gant waited a moment longer, thinking again about the Indian’s ability to use his environment, to squeeze every ounce out of it. He turned and walked quickly now over the ridge, down into Old Fields where the settlement was alive with warriors, women, children, dogs,cattle and, of course, the chieftains.
As he entered the settlement a young warrior, painted wildly, ran up to him shouting and raising a tomahawk in a menacing manner. Without flinching, John Gant raised his left hand in a friendly gesture and spoke in the Indian’s language.
“I have been called for by your chiefs and I come under peace. You are to take me to the council chambers.”
The young Indian, no more than 20 years old stopped.He had never heard a white man speak his own tongue before.
“I am Nunndihi.”
That stopped the brave. He had heard of Nunndihi. He quickly noted the large knife at Nunndihi’s side. This was the one he had heard of. He nodded and turned, motioning for John Gant to follow.
By this time, a large crowd of painted warriors had come up. Some were in various states of anger, others were curious, poking their tomahawks at John Gant, who only looked straight ahead as he walked down a gauntlet of fierce men on a fierce mission of destruction. John Gant realized now that Tuckaleechee Cove was in imminent danger of being attacked.
As he entered the council chamber, he turned to the young brave who had escorted him and made a sign with his hands that told the Indian that he was a man of honor and did his people proud. He turned and walked inside the large structure, a combination of logs, mud and hides.
Inside, as his eyes adjusted to the dark and smoke, he saw that this was not a council of peace, but a council of war. And, he was also stunned to see so many of the Cherokee Nation’s chiefs.
And, there was another true surprise. His old friend, Old Tassel was sitting in the circle. He had not seen Old Tassel, a legendary chieftain, for many years and thought him to be dead.
John Gant nodded to the circled chiefs. All of their eyes were on him as he took a position in the circle, after Hangingmaw motioned for the white man to sit. John also noticed that only Dragging Canoe, one of the most feared Cherokees on the frontier, was wearing the colors of war.
Chief Doublehead held up the pipe, waiting for the council medicine man to fill it with that special weed the Indians smoked in chambers.
As it was being filled, John Gant took the moment to take in the chief’s faces, studying them. He could tell that this was no ordinary meeting of the tribal chieftains, that he must succeed here or the people of the Cove would be destroyed, and his family with them.
As the pipe came to him, John Gant lifted and puffed. He had done this many times in the past and always dreaded it for the weed was strong and bitter and almost made him sick to his stomach. Naomi would always laugh at the recounting of these tales, for she said John Gant’s stomach was able to hold anything and she didn’t understand why smoking could make him ill. But, it did, always, momentarily.
He passed the long pipe and waited for it to return to Doublehead.
“We are glad to see you, Nunndihi. We must speak to you about serious matters,” Doublehead began.
John Gant knew that he could not interrupt and would have to wait until all of the chiefs had had their say before he would be allowed to speak.
To break in, would be an affront, and he knew that Dragging Canoe was looking for an excuse to walk out of the council and begin again his war against the whites. He had been responsible for so many deaths already, his name had become the most dreaded on the frontier. John Gant had never encountered Dragging Canoe before and he well understood the reason now why he was so disliked. His look was as menacing as the crisp buzzing of a rattlesnake.
Dragging Canoe was larger than the other chiefs. His face had a broad scar down the left side. It is said that when he was just a baby, he began dragging a canoe toward the river, exhibiting early the qualities of a brave warrior. He was always ready to take up the bow against any intruder and his courage was never questioned.
“We have asked you here to tell us why you white people do not honor your own law,” Hangingmaw began.
“We treated with your governor Blount. He wrote it out on paper, saying that our lands south of Watauga would be free of more white people. But, as you know, that is not what is happening. The white skins are coming into the southern lands, disturbing our hunting grounds and our places of burial.
“We have asked you here, Nunndihi, to tell us why we should not set fire to your villages?”
Dragging Canoe had not spoken up to this point, but John Gant could see that he was about to hear from the warrior chief.
“I am tired of this talk,” Dragging Canoe said. “I say we take this white man and burn him before we destroy his kind and take our land back.”
John Gant waited and noted that Old Tassel had winced when Dragging Canoe began his speech. Old Tassel was the elder statesman of the Cherokees and his word would be law. He had not spoken yet and John felt that he would have help in the old chief, since they had been friends so long during his trading days for the South Carolina governor.
“We should hear what our friend, Nunndihi, has to tell us about his people’s intentions before we begin talk of war,” Old Tassel said, nodding to John.
John took a deep breath. It was clear now that what he said here was a matter of survival, his and the people of the Cove. He briefly thought of Naomi and the children.
They would be cooking and preparing for a feast and getting ready to enjoy the gathering of everyone to sing and to eat together and to listen to the new preacher who had just come to the Cove.
“I thank my old friend, Old Tassel, for the honor of coming before this council. I also am indebted to the council of chiefs for this honor. As you know, I was at the signing of the Treaty of the Holston when Gov. Blount made it law that no white man would be allowed to intrude further than the Watauga Settlement.
“I know as well as you that there have been many cases of people ignoring the law. For this, I am sorry. I have tried to warn these new settlers about the dangers of not heeding the treaty.
“To tell you honestly, I believe the treaty has been broken for good.”
The chiefs looked first at John Gant and then at each other. Dragging Canoe’s face twisted into a flame of hatred. All of them began to speak at once. Dragging Canoe was shouting above the den of voices.
Old Tassel held up his hand for quiet.
“You say, Nunndihi, unafraid, that your people have ignored their own law. You are strange people, are you not, Nunndihi.”
“Yes, Old Tassel, we are. But, the treaty was made in good faith by our governor, who has tried, through force even, to stop the settlers. There are too many and I’m afraid that more will be on the way.
“It is good that we meet now to talk about this problem. I have spent many years among you. I have lived in your villages and come to know many of your chiefs. I know your ways and that is why I have come to this council, unafraid, as you mentioned.
“But, we do have a problem to solve and it is time to solve that problem. There will be more white people than you will be able to kill off. They are coming in waves, I fear. It is my hope that we can live side by side in peace. And I know that this will mean more sacrifice on the part of the Cherokee, but to my way of seeing it, we either learn to live together, or we will die together.”
Dragging Canoe stood. He was as tall as John Gant, but much thicker. His anger filled the council chamber.
“I am leaving these chambers to return to my people. We will not have our lands taken by more white men.”
John Gant looked up into Dragging Canoe’s face. He knew that unless he spoke the right words now, even he would be in danger of not seeing another moment of light.
“When you sent Unega to bring me here, I was on my way to a war council of our own in the Cove. We know that you are in a war state. You have burned our cabins and killed our people with vengeance. There are many of our people who want to set fire to your settlements and to do it with cannon, the fire guns, that bring so much destruction.
“But I don’t want it to come to that. Not for you and your people or mine. You have called me here to council. I will stay here until we can come to a reasonable solution for both of our people. To war is to destroy us all.
“I will tell you that if it is war that we must make, then I will be your fierce enemy and I will do all I can to hurry your destruction. I will help to send whole armies into your settlements and treat your women and children in a way that ours have been treated.
“I know that you do not wish this and neither do I. We have a choice as I see it. We can come together as friend and learn to survive together, or your ways will fade from the earth.
“Why? Because there are too many of us for you to kill, no matter what you might think or how many brave chiefs you have such as Dragging Canoe.
“Our soldiers will come and they will surely destroy you. If not this year, then the next. If not the next, then the next.”
The chiefs seemed stunned at such boldness. But those who knew John Gant realized that he was a man of his word and that he spoke nothing but the truth.
Hangingmaw was the first to speak.
“We must resist,” he said slowly.
“I say that we declare war now and kill this white man and be away,” said Dragging Canoe, who had taken to his feet again. He was breathing hard now.
“This is sad news,” said Doublehead, a man known for his wisdom. He had met with governors and even King George in England and was highly revered among his people.
“I was hoping, Nunndihi, that you would tell us that your people would retreat to the Watauga Settlement,leaving our precious land to us. I am afraid that this locks us up as mortal enemies.”
Old Tassle’s eyes seemed cloudy. He looked tired and for the first time, John Gant thought of his friend as an old, old man.
“I believe that what Nunndihi has told us here to be the truth. The white man is coming in great numbers. Our way is threatened, as it has been in the past,” said Old Tassel.
“There has been much waste of life, ours and theirs. We have had too many war councils, and now our people are fighting against the white man on other fronts while we intend to make war at home.
“This means we are fighting at two places at once. We are a divided nation, and I believe that the white man understands this better than we do. We can burn his cabins, but he will build more. We can kill his people, but more will come in his place.”
Dragging Canoe had tired of the talk. He grabbed his bow and quiver and started for the front of the council door.
“This I propose, then,” said Old Tassel. The words stopped Dragging Canoe at the council entrance.
“We are discussing good and evil, life and death, night and day,” the old chieftain said.
“Darkness is coming on our land. We have had enough of killing. This is what I say. We send Nunndihi back with this thought. He is to pick one person among his people and we will pick the finest of our braves.
“These two will then commence to do battle in any manner that they choose. Whoever wins then that will be the way of a new treaty among our people. It will be the signal we need that either our way will prevail, or that of the white man will become law of this land.”
John Gant had never heard his old friend in this way. He seemed to be not of this council chambers, but somewhere else.
Dragging Canoe snarled and turned to leave.
“I will have no more of this. This is for the weak among you. I am returning to my people in the mountains and we will deal with the white man as he comes to his own death.
With those words, Dragging Canoe left the council chambers. The whoops of his warriors could be heard as they mounted their ponies and began riding away toward the tall hills near the Watauga Settlement.
Dragging Canoe was fearsome and an enemy too close to the settlement for anyone’s comfort. He would have to be dealt with later, John Gant thought.
But his mind focused on Old Tassel’s words.
“How would this work, Old Tassel?” John asked.
“Two men representing their nations. They do war in any manner they so choose. It is a righteous way.”
“How would we have assurances that this would be so, that you would abide by the outcome.”
Old Tassel smiled.
“We have you here, Nunndihi. We will allow you to leave, to return to your people and to inform them of this challenge.”
John Gant’s anger flashed like floodwater.
“I came here under terms of peace. Are you telling me, Old Tassel, that it was a shroud. That you intended to kill me, though I was under the sign of peace?”
“These are difficult times, Nunndihi. Your people have caused much heartache on my people. You have broken too many of your own laws with us as we have tried to uphold our side of a bargain. But words from your people and from your governor are like the wind. They blow away, meaning nothing.
“Yes. We had discussed your death. That if this council did not come up with a satisfactory answer to our problem of dealing with the white man, then we were going to kill you and attack your settlements immediately.”
Then, John Gant thought, he had no choice but to accept Old Tassel’s challenge. To do otherwise would seal his own fate at that moment.
The other chiefs must have known and agreed with Old Tassel, otherwise he would have never made the offer. John Gant rubbed his hands and then folded his arms across his chest.
“We will accept this challenge, Old Tassel. I will take it up. You will send your warrior against Nunndihi, a man whom you know and can trust.
“Before we begin, I will ask but one concession. This is our time of the year when we celebrate together. We feast and sing, much as you do for special ceremonies.
“I ask for a treaty until I can spend two days with my family and friends in Tuckaleechee Cove, celebrating in the way we do.”
Old Tassel smiled. He had seen this white man’s celebration. Strange. He cut down trees and brought them into his cabin. Why not go outside the cabin where the trees were?
“It is a curious celebration, Nunndihi, that you perform. We have seen it many times and tried many times to understand it, but do not. Why should we wait for this celebration of yours. These are urgent matters.”
John Gant leaned forward and spoke with the kind of finality that resounded in his highland heritage.
“Because, Old Tassel, if you do not permit my freedom under this term of peace of which I came freely, I will make war upon you this day, here and now, and the killing will begin.
“But, I have come as a friend and want to leave as a friend. If it is to be, it is to be.”
The bold Nunndihi put his hand to the big knife and waited for his answer.
“You are a brave man, Nunndihi,” Old Tassel said.
“I and the others will agree to let you have your celebration.”
John leaned back, relaxing the grip upon the big knife. He was aware that he and the people of the Cove had been given a rare Christmas present, a few days of peace, before the real quest for peace began.
“You will signal Unega then, that I am to return to my people in peace, under the terms of this agreement.”
Old Tassel and the others spoke in their tongue. John heard them say that it would be difficult now to get Unega to agree to this, since he had already made war preparations. And, then, there was Dragging Canoe, who departed the chambers in a state of rage.
“I will come with you, Nunndihi, to ensure that you have a safe return to your cabin. But you will have only two days and no more,” said Old Tassel.
This was a big sacrifice on the part of the old chief. He was much too old for such a trip. John wondered why he would take such a risk, to leave the Old Fields, near his burying ground.
“Old Tassel. You are my old friend. I am afraid that such a trip in this winter is not a good idea. Send one of the younger chiefs in your stead. It will be better.”
The old chieftain smiled. He looked far off. It was if he heard voices, or drums beating to the rhythm of an ancient tune.
“But that is the point, Nunndihi. Peace is worth whatever it is we have to give to make it work. By going with you, I hope to encourage Unega to allow your safety. Of this, I am not at all certain. He may kill you despite my presence. He has performed the mountain top ceremony and I am afraid he is of one mind now.
“Dragging Canoe is not to be trusted. He has broken our ancient law and we were going to deal with him after you left. But, as you can see, he is another problem.
“Therefore, I will go with you and we will cross the big mountain to your village. I will rest with you for those two days and nights and then make my return while you then begin to uphold your end of our treaty.”
John Gant smiled. Old Tassel had once again outsmarted everyone in the council chambers.
He alone knew that while he was with the white man, there would be a measure of safety for not only his people, but also the white man and his people.
It was a rare gift, he thought.
Peace before war, and perhaps peace forever.
In there, John Gant knew he would be able to find himself and the courage to uncover a plan for coexistence between the two nations. He had to, for without it, not only would his way of life change, but so also would the way of this gentle old man, who had decided to yield his own life in an effort to bring about a new understanding.
“And what if we fail to reach the place we call Tuckaleechee Cove, Old Tassel?”
“Then, Nunndihi, we will have tried and your people will write one day that two men of the wilderness were able to triumph over the spirit and the heart, but not of man’s mind. It will be a sad tale. I hope we succeed, Nunndihi.”
The two men, Old Tassel, and John Gant, stood and walked from the council chambers into the cold, snowy afternoon.
Old Tassel’s war horse was waiting and a horse had been brought up for John Gant. It was held by two women, one on either side of the spirited bay colored horse.
“This is Warwoman and her youngest daughter, Katalsta. It means Potterwoman,” said Old Tassel.
“Warwoman is a beloved woman of our tribe. She has told us of your coming and of your going. She is the wisdom keeper of our nation. She has seen in the morning and the nights, the sunrise and the sunsets, of our future.
“She has said that I must try this one last thing, and you, Nunndihi, were chosen for this last challenge. We knew that you would not allow anyone but yourself to take up the challenge. And that is good.
“Warwoman has told us that you will win. I don’t believe her. I can’t believe her, but she has said it has been written already, that our time and your time will become one and that you will learn from us and we will learn nothing from you.
“You will come to know our cooking and our pottery for holding water and our oak baskets for holding food and flowers. You will come to know how to make teas from the plants and the leaves you can and cannot eat. We will teach you, but first, Nunndihi, there will be this trial by fire.
“Warwoman has spoken to us. She has said that through her daughter, Katalsta, your women will come to know the earth and how to shape it.
The women are of the earth and know it best. We warriors live on top of the earth and understand it little. Women are the sculptors, we are the sculpted.
“We will go now. And when it is over, Nunndihi, I hope you will return to this land and leave lessons for your descendants, the lessons that are about to be shaped in these mountains.
“Peace is not good enough, Nunndihi, because that is frail and of man. We must learn like Warwoman and her children, that we are all potters and poets and sculptors and those things are more important than an individual or even a single celebration you call Christmas.
“We must become poets of the land, Nunndihi.”
The two men rode to the top of the ridge while Warwoman and Katalsta watched them disappear over the edge into a new world.