A Yellowstone Christmas

By: Peggy L Henderson

Sure enough, a wide grin spread across Elk Runner’s face when he approached.

“My ax is sharp. Would you like help chopping the tree into smaller pieces for firewood? Your hearth cannot possibly hold the entire tree.” Elk Runner pulled his club from his belt.

Daniel frowned. “What brings you here so early in the day? Has Little Bird finally decided to toss you from her lodge?”

“Will you invite me inside your lodge so I may warm myself by your fire before I tell you of my reason?” Elk Runner rubbed his hands together, then held them to his mouth. His warm breath escaped in gray swirls from between his fingers.

“I hope Little Bird takes a willow switch to you for leaving your hut in the middle of the night in winter. Do you want her to be a widow and raise your sons by herself?” Daniel shot his brother a disapproving look, but turned to open the cabin door. Warm air greeted him, making his cold nose tingle. He grabbed the pine tree, and glanced over his shoulder.

“If you mock my wife with even one word about this tree, you will find yourself out in the cold again.” He didn’t bother to wait for Elk Runner’s response to his warning, and stepped inside the cabin. He set the tree near the corner by the window, and removed his heavy buffalo robe. Elk Runner already stood before the hearth, holding his hands to the fire.

“There’s coffee to warm you,” Daniel offered.

Elk Runner pulled his own sheepskin robe from around his shoulders, and faced Daniel.

“Your wife still sleeps?” Elk Runner’s eyes roamed the cabin, and rested on Daniel’s bedroom door.

“She’s been tired over the last few weeks since we’ve had all this snow. I’m afraid she still hasn’t fully adjusted to the winters here,” Daniel said, and moved to the workbench. He reached for two tin cups, and poured coffee. Offering one to his brother, he pulled a chair from beneath the table in the center of the room, sat, and glared at Elk Runner. He waited for the Indian to join him at the table, and when his brother sat in a chair opposite Daniel, he raised his eyebrows in a silent question.

“There has been a Blackfoot raid against a clan of Tukudeka to the north,” Elk Runner said, staring intently at Daniel. His usual relaxed facial features suddenly looked hard and serious. “The clan traveled for several days to reach our camp and seek aid.”

Daniel’s eyebrows rose. It was the last thing he expected his brother to say. His eyes darted to the closed bedroom door where the young Blackfoot woman slept with her newborn. Her appearance in this valley couldn’t be a coincidence. Hadn’t he just thought about the chance of more Blackfoot in the area only a few moments ago?

“How many dead?” Daniel asked slowly. His eyes narrowed. The Tukudeka were traditionally hunters and peaceful people. An unexpected raid could have a devastating outcome.

“One woman, a young hunter and one child.” Elk Runner sipped his coffee. “It is bad enough that this clan’s shaman lost his son to the Blackfoot last spring. Now they are raided in the dead of winter. The spirits must be very angry with the clan for some reason.” He shook his head.

Daniel didn’t think the spirits had been the reason for the raid, but he kept his thoughts to himself.

“I remember Fallen Eagle’s son, Red Fox. He went on a spirit journey, did he not?” Daniel asked.

“And he never returned,” Elk Runner confirmed with a nod of his head. “When his father went looking for him, there was evidence of a Blackfoot raid at the sacred rocks. Fallen Eagle never found his son’s body. It is assumed that he was taken alive, but no one survives a capture by the Blackfoot. He has not completed his spirit journey, so he could not have become a puha and been untouchable.”

Daniel studied his brother from across the table. When a young man of the Tukudeka decided to go on a spirit journey, it was believed that some returned with the powers of the spirits, and became invincible to their enemies. Aimee, who had never been on a spirit journey, had been bestowed the title of puhagant by the elders of Elk Runner’s clan for being a powerful medicine woman.

Everyone thought she had been touched by the spirits for her abilities to heal the sick, and word had spread to other tribes that she was a great healer. Before learning of his wife’s secret that she had time traveled from two hundred years in the future, he had believed the same thing.

To this day, Daniel was convinced that it was because of the Sky People that Aimee was his wife. Whatever his or anyone else’s spiritual beliefs were, a higher power had to be involved when Aimee was sent to him. He didn’t know what he had done to please the spirits, but the woman with the golden hair sleeping in the next room, the mother of his sons, the woman who was his heart song, had been the best thing that ever happened to him, and he couldn’t imagine a life without her.

Daniel sipped from his cup. “I have a young Blackfoot woman here,” he said slowly, bracing for his brother’s response. Elk Runner sat up straighter, his eyes so wide they threatened to pop from his head.

“You place your family and yourself in grave danger, White Wolf,” Elk Runner said. His words were strained, and for once, it was the only thing he could apparently say at the moment.

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