Ona’tah raised her rifle, finger poised over the trigger, and walked a tight circle like a wolf preparing to sleep. She examined the shadows between trees and bushes for any movement that might signal an ambush. She couldn’t understand it. For half-a-day she’d followed a trail as clear as the course of the Menaonki’hela River, yet now it had disappeared as if the honio’on she’d tracked was a spirit—or maybe a demon.
She should give up on this honio’on. Why was she so interested in this particular one, anyway? There were hundreds in the camp. ‘Curiosity killed the cougar,’ her father used to say. But something—a niggling thought at the back of her mind—told her this honio’on was important. Somehow, he would lead her to her father. She glanced at the sky, ‘Great Creator, is that You speaking to me?’
Ona’tah stared at the innocent-looking, gray boulder. Deep footprints led to the foot of the stone, then...nothing. Had the ground opened up and swallowed him whole? Circling the rock, she examined the ground for any sign of scuffmarks or mud from the boots, but other than a generous scraping of fresh mud on the boulder itself, she saw no sign of the honio’on’s passing. Standing beside the rock, she faced northwest, the direction the heavy man had faithfully headed since leaving the camp. Hobblebushes clogged a tree-lined avenue. Light-blue butterflies fluttered around their pretty white and pink flowers. Where she’d expected a trail of broken branches stood undisturbed plants. The light breeze brought a faint scent of vanilla from the flowers, and she wondered if she should collect some hobblebush bark for her medicine bag, as she knew she was running low. She gripped her rifle tighter; she shouldn’t allow herself to become so distracted.
‘Chick-a-dee-dee-dee,’ sang a bird in the trees. ‘Chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee,’ replied another.
If chickadees were content to sing, it was unlikely the honio’on or other men lurked nearby. Ona’tah lowered her rifle and slumped down on the boulder. Obviously, if she’d wanted to travel northwest, she would take the meandering route around the trees to the left, rather than struggle through the hobblebushes straight ahead or the marshy ground to the right, but what did the honio’on do? If only her father were here to advise her.
She thought back to the last time her father had taken her hunting in the woods near the Eagle Clan village. She’d discovered a cougar’s paw prints, and he’d watched in silence as she followed the tracks all by herself. Then she’d come to a place where the ground was solid rock. Without prints, disturbed ground or damaged plants to mark the path, she’d hesitated. After a moment, he’d leaned close and whispered, ‘Be the cougar.’
She’d closed her eyes and imagined what a cougar might think. Did she want food? No, they’d passed the remains of a beaver carcass where the cougar had eaten. Did she seek shelter? No, the tracks led downhill into the denser forest, and cougar’s liked caves in the mountains. Was she thirsty? Up until now, the tracks had led downhill, in the same direction as a spring where animals often came to drink. Ona’tah opened her eyes; she knew where the cougar was.
‘Daughter, I’m so proud of you,’ he’d said.
How did a honio’on think? They didn’t seek food or shelter like Ganung’sisne’ha would; they were fools in the forest. As her father had taught her, she closed her eyes and pushed away all irrelevant thought. She focused on being the honio’on. Did she thirst for one’ga? Unlikely, there was plenty of one’ga for her at the camp. Women? If she’d wanted a woman, there would be more to the south where the honio’on settlements were. Settlements! That’s what honio’on sought. They didn’t seek the best berries or water holes that attracted game, but instead large villages where they might trade. She opened her eyes. Logstown was the largest village she knew of and it was three days walk northwest. He must be headed there.
Standing, she adjusted the straps of her medicine bag and then slung the rifle onto her shoulder. Though she couldn’t explain the disappearance of his tracks, she knew where the honio’on was going. She would continue northwest and without the need to read tracks expected she would move faster than the honio’on and catch up with him. This cougar wouldn’t escape.