The grey pre-dawn sky melded with the grey blue of the canyon wall. Mykaita shivered and hugged her fur hide closer as she placed tufts of dry prairie grass and a little dung on the embers of last night’s cooking fire.
Tubers went into a small clay pot along with a bit of a deep golden spice long known to her people as an aid for stomach ailments. Another pot held water that Mykaita brought to a boil for an infusion of other medicinal herbs.
Helba emerged from the cave coughing. “Ah, the fragrance of the tea warms these old bones already child.”
Mykaita brought her some of the tea. “The morning air has a chill to it. It may be a foreboding omen. The men have been gone for so long. Will they return Maman, before the ice comes?”
“You may stop calling me Maman, Mykaita. Many moons have passed since you became a most capable medicine woman. But do not the signs in the heavens and the shape of the leaves, the fragrance of the flowers and their medicinal properties tell you that the Supreme Maker is good and will take care of us? Just last evening I saw his sign in the moon, so large and golden, just above the horizon. He will surely allow our men to return to us.”
“Perhaps as I have not lived so long as you Ma- Helba I do not have the same faith that age has taught you.”
“Child, do you not see the changing of the seasons and how warm days change to cold and as surely cold to warm? Though the cold kills many, the return of warm winds brings new life. It is just as sure as the sun rising each morning.” Helba gestured dramatically as the first rays of morning light breasted the east rim of the canyon.
“Maman,I also see that the part of the cave where the vegetables that have been gathered and dried for winter storage is full, yet too little meat has been brought by the hunters and the cold is creeping upon us. What if the men should not return? Will the roots and herbs be enough for our needs? The children will need fur hides for sleeping and wearing too.”
“So they will child, but wait and see.”
By late afternoon the cool breeze of morning became an icy blast. It also brought the odor of smoke from a prairie fire consuming the dry brown grass. Mykaita watched the mouth of the canyon anxiously for any sign of the returning hunters. The man to whom she was promised would be leading them.
“The fire is an added danger. Yet I feel it in these old bones. They are all right and they will return in triumph.” Helba’s old eyes watered from the smoke, yet they were calm and peaceful as she sat sorting the dried herbs and flowers that she would grind into a fine powder to replenish her medicinal stores for winter.
Another day passed and another. The smoke from the prairie fire finally faded away and vanished altogether. A fine powder of white snow fell in the afternoon of the second day.
The adults huddled inside the cave sharing hides with the children, their cooking fires providing some warmth. Pots placed on stones that had been heated over them held water to simmer vegetables and herbs and the diminishing store of dried meat from earlier hunting successes.
The next day was warmer as a fickle wind turned out of the southeast.
Unable to shake her fears, Mykaita took a basket and went out to gather more root vegetables. Spotting a clump underneath an almost leafless tree she had her digging stick out and was uprooting a leafy plant when a footfall sounded behind her.
Whirling around she expected to see a child that had followed her. Instead her man caught her up in his muscular arms, grinning.
“Mykaita you must come and see! We have meat enough for this winter and into the spring. The prairie fire drove many antelope and bison right to us. We had only to spear them. The Supreme Maker has been most gracious to us.” Mykaita felt the tension of the previous days finally leave her.
Later as she and Helba set to work with the other women to skin the carcasses, Mykaita smiled. “I will not doubt again Maman. The Supreme Maker is indeed very good.”
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