Ona’tah knew that the Black Mingo boy in her rifle’s sights must die. Beseeching the Creator for strength, she took a deep breath, squeezed the trigger and then braced herself for the recoil. The flint sparked against the pan, but the priming didn’t catch. Her heart leapt up inside her chest, and she quickly glanced inside the pan. The powder was damp. During the course of the morning, several cold drops of water from the wet leaves overhead had splashed her skin, and one must have hit her rifle. She lowered her weapon, and her shoulders slumped. If the boy wanted her dead, this was his opportunity.
Dark eyes stared at her from a face void of expression. He didn’t raise his rifle, or reach for the tomahawk hanging from his wampum belt; perhaps because he felt he had all the time in the world. For a moment, she thought he would say something, but then a burst of rifle fire from the direction of the camp caused him to turn and take his eyes off her.
Ona’tah spun and sprinted away, threading uphill through the trees, dodging a hobblebush that threatened to trip her, jumping a moss-covered log. She wasted no time glancing back to see if the boy pursued her; she concentrated all her strength and agility on racing forward. Wet ferns whipped her legs as she flew by. She was a swift runner, and well versed in woodcraft as anyone would expect from her father’s daughter, but she believed the Mingo would catch her if he decided to pursue. Her personal fate wasn’t all that important, but she feared that the precious thing inside her medicine bag and all it represented would be lost if she were captured now.
She heard a loud volley of gunfire behind her and wondered who was attacking the camp. Most likely, that boy was part of the rearguard for a Mingo attack, guarding his clansmen’s backs while they concentrated on killing honio’on. Today some young braves would claim scalps and win their warrior names. As she reached a low plateau, she wondered if the boy had earned his name yet, or if he was as innocent of blood as she.
After a few minutes, she slowed her pace, her breath now ragged and her heart beating as fast as that of a rabbit caught in a snare. She continued to move, but now concentrated on concealment—leaving no trail—as she continued to put distance between herself and the Black Mingo brave. Was he pursuing her? Somehow she suspected not, and that thought troubled her. The ground sloped upwards again.
The Mingo boy’s aura was so dark, Ona’tah had been certain he would murder her without pause for thought. Yet he’d had ample opportunity to do so and let her go. Was it that he hadn’t yet grown into the man capable of the carnage as she’d foreseen in her visions? Or, much more disturbing, was her vision wrong? Her grandmother had assured her that all aura visions were true, though they might never happen since they showed the potential future rather than fixed fate. The Creator gave all men the power to change their destiny; nothing was ever set in the stars.
Ona’tah changed direction, circling around the hillside now, hopefully confusing any pursuer, though she now suspected there was none. Had the Creator wanted the boy to live? Maybe He had caused her rifle to fail. She knew that the Age of Serpents was close-at-hand; she didn’t need the Creator’s Gift or her grandmother’s vision dreams to know this because the signs were clear. Perhaps this Black Mingo had a role to play in the coming struggle between good and evil.
The last time she’d seen Grandmother alive, Ona’tah was preparing for the vision quest that marked her journey from childhood into full adult membership of the Eagle Clan. Grandmother bid her to sit beside the hearth and then presented her with the medicine bag.
‘Take this,’ she said. ‘Inside is an ancient artefact precious to the Eagle Clan, and it is your responsibility to safeguard it.’
She looked more haggard than usual, prompting Ona’tah to ask, ‘What worries you, Grandmother?’
‘The Age of Serpents is upon us.’ Grandmother squeezed her eyes shut and sighed. ‘You know Jigon’sahseh’s Legacy to us.’
Ona’tah had shivered then. ‘Will it really come so soon?’
Grandmother wearily nodded. ‘So the Creator has warned me. Before you are as old as I, the Ganung’sisne’ha shall be defeated in battle, shattered and then scattered across Turtle Island.’
‘Can’t we do anything?’
‘Your duty.’ A tear escaped Grandmother’s eye and dribbled down her wrinkled cheek. ‘The Ganung’sisne’ha have become too proud of their strength and wealth and turned from the Great Law of Peace. For this reason, the Great Creator will allow the Evil One his day.’
‘What of the boy?’
‘I do not know. I cannot see. But, you know what you must do’
Ona’tah bowed her head. ‘I am not strong enough. I lack faith.’
Grandmother’s face twisted into a scowl. ‘You must have faith or all shall be lost!’
Ona’tah flushed. ‘Yes, Great One.’
All Ganung’sisne’ha knew the Prophesy of the Serpents, but only the women of her family knew Jigon’sahseh’s Secret Prophesy. This was the second of their three curses. Why had the Creator cursed her noble line so? In her heart, Ona’tah knew why, but she didn’t like to think of that. It was the third of the three curses.
A loud cry of, ‘Ooo-whew-whew-whew-whew-whew!’ from a tree overhead disturbed Ona’tah’s recollection. She halted and glanced up at the common grackle that fidgeted with its wings and sang out again, ‘Ooo-whew-whew-whew-whew-whew!’
She examined the woods surrounding her. No shadows stalked her and there was no sign of human presence, though the faint sounds of distant battle carried on the breeze. A low blueberry bush nearby caught her eye. She picked one dark-blue fruit and then popped it into her mouth, grateful for the small burst of sweetness. After collecting a good handful of the refreshing berries, she crouched in the shade of a beautiful, tall Tree of Peace, her tanned skin glistening with tiny beads of perspiration.
Her father was out here somewhere, and she had reason to believe he wanted to kill as many Frenchmen as possible. The Mingo were attacking a French camp, so might her father be with them? Having seen that boy’s dark aura, she was reluctant to approach the Mingo war party. However, after the battle, she could follow the Mingo and observe from a distance. If she saw her father, she would enter their camp, and if not, they might lead her to her father. She would not try to kill the boy again. At least, not unless the Creator sent her a clearer sign that such was His will. Oh, how she wished her grandmother was here to advise her, now that she had need of wise counsel.
Ona’tah closed her eyes and prayed.
‘Great Creator, forgive me for I have failed You. Strengthen my faith, for I have doubted You. Guide my spear and grant me strength. Lead my feet to my father, and keep him safe ‘till I reach him.’