Ghost Warrior

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Authors: Lucia St. Clair Robson
golden abyss of sunlight.
    The children careened, shrieking and laughing down the slope in a rumble like an avalanche. As the hide rocked and pitched, they leaned from side to side to keep from flipping over. Sometimes it took to the air, landing again with a kidney-jolting thud. The dislodged gravel tumbled and chuckled beside it like Mountain’s children. The valley floor rushed up at them. The hide hit the bottom of the slope, leveled abruptly, and sped out onto the overflow of gravel. Sister’s sixteen-year-old cross-cousin, He Makes Them Laugh, was waiting for her.
    He was small, slender, and strong. He had acquired an old wool vest with brass buttons on the front. He had hung two of the buttons from the holes in his earlobes. He had knotted cords through the button holes and tied bird skulls and lizards to them. Six dead rats dangled from a thong passed through
their mouth. They looked as though they were clinging to it with their teeth.
    â€œThe Pale Eyes leave their garbage everywhere, and the rats swarm over it.” He lifted one by the tail. “Look how fat they are. They’ll make a lot of grease in the stew.”
    He wrinkled his long nose, stuck his upper teeth out over his lower lip, and did a scuttling little dance, chanting a rat song he made up on the spot. The boys laughed as they rubbed their bruised tailbones.
    â€œCousin, your brother’s wife wants you,” he said when he finished.
    Sister felt suddenly ashamed. A child was beginning to make a bulge in She Moves Like Water’s belly. She vomited every morning. She always had work to do, and she needed Sister’s help.
    The hide had cost Sister a lot of work, and she wanted to take it with her. If she left it here, the boys would wear it out. She thought of how many times her brother had told her that a leader gave his people whatever he had that they needed. She remembered what Grandmother told her, “Whatever you give away comes back. It might not be anything you can see, but it will come back.” She slid the hide toward Ears So Big; then she and He Makes Them Laugh started at a lope back to camp.
    Sister’s cousin always had a good-natured disregard for the opinion of others, but even if he cared what people thought, he could still keep company with her. He was the son of her mother’s brother, which made him Sister’s cross-cousin. Cross-cousins could never marry each other, and so they were not bound by the same constraints as others.
    When Sister reached her brother’s wife’s cluster of lodges and arbors. She Moves Like Water kept her voice low when she scolded.
    â€œHave you been going around with those boys again? People will say bad things about you. You’ll disgrace the family.”
    â€œGranddaughter,” Grandmother called from the cooking arbor. “Grind more cornmeal. We have a guest.”

    When Sister saw the guest, she understood why She Moves Like Water did not want to start a loud argument. Cheis was the leader of the Tall Cliffs People. His name meant “Oak,” in the sense of an oak tree’s strength and endurance. He was tall, and Sister had to admit he was as handsome as her own brother. He was a man people expected would provide for them and protect them.
    He had brought his people to hold council with the Red Paint men about avenging the massacre at Janos. He was almost twice as old as Morning Star, who was twenty-four, and he should have been with the older men at the fire of his wife’s father, Red Sleeves. Instead, he had settled down here and offered tobacco to Morning Star, Loco, and Broken Foot. He had been discussing horses ever since.
    One reason he kept away from Red Sleeves’ camp was that his woman’s mother, Red Sleeves’ third wife, was there. Cheis never spoke her name. Instead, he used the title for a wife’s mother, She Who Has Become Old. Avoiding contact with one’s wife’s mother was the respectable

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