I was lean and hungry when I returned to Beka Steele’s campsite. The green leaves were being transformed into shades of reds, yellows, and burnt orange. Autumn was easing its chill into the air.
Wariness was alive within me. My empty belly had a gnarled knot in it that was tight and anxious. A fool’s errand had brought me here—I was possessed by a desperate determination to track her down.
There were gaping, deeply flawed holes in my reasoning. It was as though the near-mystic experiences of the last number of weeks meant nothing. I had no credible expectation of finding signs, but stubbornness had reared up to divert me to this place.
I should skedaddle—there ought to be nothing slowing me from making a beeline to the Iroquois community to deliver the message I’d received. Shamish and Bernadette had to be informed that their son Tineek was in danger—a threat loomed over the infant that had some distance to it, but was real and urgent.
Yet here I was sorting through the rubble of memory and the emptiness of an abandoned camp. No helpful evidence of Beka Steele could possibly remain—the ebb and flow of weather had surely done its eroding work, but nevertheless I had a serious look around.
I knelt on the spot where we’d stared into each other’s eyes—my hands passed over the grass upon which the redhead had stood. There was no residue or inkling that she’d ever been here, but I swear I could sense her presence—she was in my bloodstream beating through my veins.
It’d been more than forty days since she’d flashed away—more than forty days since I’d become completely unglued. All those hours had been spent in the wilderness detached from human contact—the madness of loneliness had lasted for a disturbing length of time.
The mania of it drove me to my knees in rites of purging and purification. I sought healing and spiritual renewal by engaging in what I knew of prayer and fasting. Day after day after day I holed up in a cave keeping a silent vigil before the Creator—words were unnecessary because the One who spoke existence into being had an intimate knowledge of me.
In the midst of this seeking I eyewitnessed a nightmare—it was less than a vision but more powerful than a premonition. I was wide awake as the scene unfolded in my mind’s eye on three separate occasions—every detail was always exactly the same. Tragic and terrible shadows from the future gripped and clawed at me—I saw Tineek McCleary die.
Now each step was purposeful. I had a two-pronged plan—I was going to forewarn my friends, then I intended to find Beka Steele.
When I moved away from Buffalo Creek and came near the orderly collection of longhouses I was mobbed by children. Shiny-faced boys and girls crowded around and took tremendous delight in touching me, squealing as they did so.
Their joyful welcome surprised me. I was scruffy and unshaven—a rank stranger who’d only passed through the Iroquois village on a rainy summer evening more than a month ago. The sun was above the treeline in the west. I moved along with the youngsters as my escort and herald. Their voices were joined together in out of sync rhythm as they sang a single word over and over again—I couldn’t quite catch it, but it had a lilting sound that was pleasant.
Adults were gathering in little clusters and watching me with a mix of caution and respect. Hands were holding tools for tasks unfinished—it was evident that much activity had been interrupted by my arrival. I spotted Shamish and Bernadette—they were in front of the smallish longhouse at the far edge of the small town. It was then that I realized my singsonging entourage was actually herding me to them.
Their appearance was discomforting—my companions stood stiff and erect, looking like dignitaries prepared to receive some foreign potentate. The procession stopped a short piece from them—the children shushed as a stillness settled over the scene. It wasn’t tension precisely but as the long moments dragged on uneasiness swelled in my bosom.
Bernadette finally broke the hushed tranquility. “You are honored amongst our people, Iorón:rote,” she said, with formality in her tone. “Tales have been told of your greatness.”
I gave her a sour frown lined with confusion—she’d called me what the children had been chirping. I glanced at Shamish, hoping he’d offer assistance, but not so—he merely cocked an eyebrow in one of those what-the-frak expressions that was not at all helpful.
The medicine woman smiled. “You are Iorón:rote. It refers to the northland’s dancing lights for you ride the flashes in the sky.”
I winced—obviously a partial verdict was in on the jigsaw of my life. My head bowed slightly as I lowered my eyes and held my hands together in prayer-posture. “I am humbled. In other places I’m known as Jedediah Jodat, but here, I am Iorón:rote.”
“What have you come to tell us?” Bernadette asked directly.
“How. . .” I stopped. She knew what she knew—the how of it wasn’t open for discussion. After all, how’d I know what I had to share?
Bernadette nodded with a firm resolve. “It will keep until later. First we must celebrate your return—your coming back was foretold to me. We have been waiting for you.”
My mouth puckered as a dry lump pushed up my throat. Foretold? Waiting for me? The mystery of it throttled my senses.
Time & Truth
I was exhausted—the wee-hours of the morning were creeping up on us.
The tribe had treated me like royalty. I could not refuse their benevolence and generosity. I’d been cleaned up and shaven in ceremonial fashion while a smorgasbord was prepared. We’d feasted until long past midnight.
The eating, drinking, smoking, and merrymaking had reverence in it—all of it was filled with good cheer and punctuated by outbursts of laughter. When the first threads of daylight began to stitch itself along the eastern horizon the festive binge broke-up of its own accord—oral history masters had talked themselves dry.
My stomach hurt because of its gluttonous reintroduction to food—my head throbbed from the herb enriched tobacco. I wanted nothing more than to collapse into a stuporous dreamland, but before doing so, there was a task to be accomplished.
The longhouse was warm and cozy, but coldness nipped at me as I spoke in a low, steady tone. I was careful to include every specific of the nightmare that bedeviled me—it all remained vivid and tangible.
Tineek was snuggled in and asleep off by himself. Shamish and Bernadette listened intently as I unloaded my woeful story. I sat cross-legged across from them—we formed the points of a triangle around a crackling fire at the center of the room.
When the narrative came to its stunning conclusion Shamish spat a wad of chew into the flames—the tobacco sizzled. He wiped his mouth and pulled on his chin-whiskers. His eyes glistened with a palpable, overwhelming sorrow that tore at me.
“I’m sorry,” I offered lamely.
“Aye,” he said, dismissing my words with a backhanded wave. “Ten or twelve years you say?”
I shifted wearily. “That’d be my guess, by the size and look of him.”
Shamish stared at me. “Brave was he?”
“Extremely brave,” I answered firmly. “His actions saved lives.”
Bernadette leaned forward, her face set in a hard expression. “What you have spoken of hurts my heart.” Her eyes were lively and remote. “We will teach him, train him, and treasure him. Tineek will be our life. When his dying time comes he will be bold and brave, and make his people proud.”
Shamish started to protest but she stifled him with a chopping motion. “We will not speak of this ever again,” she said fiercely. Her eyes bent to where her son slept, lingered for a bit, then she focused attention on the fire. “Hahgwehdiyu, the Maker of all things, has his reasons and ways. Only crazy ones demand an explanation from him.”
Her dogmatic demeanor was unsettling—it made me squirm, yet beneath the troubling angst a surreal comfort began to weave its way through me. I closed my eyes tight, fixating on the tense pattern of our breathing as it scratched at the silence of dawn.
The prickly misgivings didn’t fade away into nothingness, but a peculiar solace blanketed me. The certainty of the medicine woman’s assessment satisfied my soul in an old familiar manner—it was no secret to me that time and truth walk hand in hand.