Regano prances restlessly as I sit astride her, searching the blood horizon of dawn, seeking signs of the great, slow moving herd. The red dawn is a good sign. The Great Warrior above will favor our hunting.
Four nights past the sky was clear, with the Warrior gazing down upon us, his hunting knife sheathed at his waist.
The fire blazed high that night as the young women swayed in the dance, their shadows falling across our faces as we sat around the circle. The older women, my mother among them, served the dried meat and the maize they had spent the morning grinding.
Elkhorn the Elder rose after the meal. Lifting the woven bowl of steaming liquid, he tipped it to his lips, drinking deeply. He swayed slowly with his eyes closed, his wrinkled face upraised to the sky, his bony arms raised to the unseen One above. The light of the fire played across the ocher and yellow paint on his face in flashes and shadows while we held our breath.
Finally, in his ancient quaver: “Oh Great Warrior, you who look upon us and know our deeds, our hearts and the needs of your people. We beseech you now as we send forth these, our skilled young men. Give protection from enemies and from the elements. Make ready their spears to pierce the hides of the great beasts that make thunder upon the earth. Make keen their eyes, and guide their weapons to the kill.”
“Hino, do you see?” Ridosa, my second, is beside me, drawing me back to the present.
I sense the Great Warrior's answer. In the distance a great dust cloud rises, even as the east horizon cools from pink to pale blue and gray.
“There!” I call out, turning to the mounted hunters arrayed behind me.
Excitement stirs them, communicating itself to their ponies, who prance nervously.
“Easy, Regano. Today we hunt the great shaggy beast, and there will be plenty for all of our people.”
We ease the small horses down the steep embankment. Legend tells us this was once a vast sea, which the Great Warrior dried up to make a plain for the buffalo.
Our group moves rapidly across the open ground, closing the distance to the herd, still far in the distance.
The hunter beside me is my grandfather. He is little more than hide stretched across bones. Yet he insisted on making this ride.
“Perhaps the Great Warrior will see fit to take me to the eternal hunting grounds of my fathers this time,” he told my father, as the two men embraced. My father had turned to me, his eyes full. “Take care of your Grandfather, my son. And give him a burial of honor, if the Great Warrior so chooses.”
The ancient one's face displays no emotion; it is the way of our people.
We are closing on the last of the massive herd. Thousands of the huge beasts thunder past us; a mighty storm roaring across the plain.
Dust chokes us.
Our spears are raised, at the ready; our eyes sharp, seeking, selecting.
A crack like lightning bursts upon us, and another, then many.
Horses race past us; we are unseen.
Men strangely clothed raise spears toward the herd, and fire races from their spear points, making the cracking sound. Again, and again, the fire blazes, and animals are falling in great numbers. The herd is spooked and moving too fast now. Cows bawl with wide white eyes, their oversized heads thrashing wildly, as they flee, heedless of direction, terrified.
Regano shows the whites of her eyes. I fight to calm her. Emotion rushes like vinegar through my veins.
Tears spill down Grandfather's wizened face, the gray of the sky mirrored in his old eyes.
“They come,” he says simply. Slowly, he turns his pony in the direction of home.
Our hunters gather around me, watching him. We are torn between anger and fear.
“Who comes?” asks Ridosa, his voice uneasy.
Suddenly, as if he cannot stand such an ignoble end, Grandfather wheels his pony about. The legs of the tough little horse stretch themselves at a hard run in the direction the herd has gone.
We turn and race to join him.
“No, it will not end. It will not end,” he cries, over and over, as the last of the buffalo disappear over the northern horizon.
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