CHAPTER TWENTY NINE
Ona’tah stood beside Alli’quippa and watched as Father led Craven through the waiting circle of Ganung’sisne’ha braves and noblewomen that parted for the fat honio’on like they might for a charging buffalo. Hadawa’ko was there, standing to the back of the crowd beside Kanin’guen; the young brave’s dark aura contrasted strongly with the older man’s unusually light one.
The fragile head clan mother sat on a log, staring at Craven as if he were a new plant she’d discovered in the forest, wondering what use it might have as a medicine, or perhaps poison. Why would she wish to see this fat honio’on? His lack of an aura still troubled Ona’tah, though not so much as before now she was accustomed to it. Lately, his stomach had stopped spilling out over his belt, and she could just make out the curves of unusually large muscles along his shoulder and down his arms. As he neared, he glanced at her and smiled. Her face heated, though obviously due to embarrassment at his acknowledgement of her in such esteemed Ganung’sisne’ha company, nothing more. She did not return the smile.
Father came to a halt. ‘Honoured Mother, I bring before you the honio’on known as Fat Man.’
Craven glanced at him with a puzzled expression. Clearly, he wondered what was being said.
Alli’quippa turned to Ona’tah and reached out her hand. ‘Help me, Child.’
Ona’tah gripped the head clan mother’s hand, and it was like grasping a bunch of wind blown autumn leaves. She helped Alli’quippa rise to her feet, and then the old woman stepped towards Craven, raising her arm in salute. ‘Sede’koni? You come to eat?’
Several noblewomen gasped, and one brave’s eyes bulged so much that Ona’tah thought they might pop out from their sockets. Father raised an eyebrow, but then gave the formal reply as if it came from Craven’s lips not his. ‘Nia’we, thank you.’ Why had she treated Craven like an honoured Ganung’sisne’ha guest?
Two women appointed to serve food rushed forward with bark platters and offered spicy chopped venison to Craven and Father. The wonderful aroma of this celebratory dish teased her nose and made her mouth water. She hoped there would be enough leftovers for her to grab a bite. Craven examined the delicacy for a moment and then glanced at Father. When Father nodded, Craven took the bark and lifted a tiny amount of the food to his lips. Soon a smile lit up his face, adding an almost handsome touch to his ugly features. She hadn’t noticed before that he had such straight, white teeth and the mischievous grin of a naughty little boy.
While Craven ate, Alli’quippa gazed at him, squinting as old people sometimes do when examining something of particular interest. Not actually at him, but around him. Ona’tah frowned. Could the head clan mother see auras? The only other person she’d ever known who could was Grandmother. Even if she could, Craven had no aura to see. Then Alli’quippa chuckled. That chuckle soon grew into a laugh. The assembled Ganung’sisne’ha glanced at one another, clearly failing to see this joke visible only to the head clan mother. Ona’tah wondered if her great age might have eroded her sanity. Craven looked up, glanced around, and then asked, ‘Did I do something wrong?’
‘No,’ answered Father in English. ‘I don’t know why the queen is laughing, so I don’t.’
Alli’quippa moved closer to Ona’tah, and a familiar citrus smell reached Ona’tah’s nose. ‘Of course, you cannot see his aura,’ whispered the head clan mother.
Ona’tah gaped. ‘You know about the Creator’s Gift? Can you see auras?’
‘Did you think you were the only one, Child? I knew you could as soon as I set eyes upon you. It was the way you cocked your head when you first saw me, looking around me rather than at me. Anyway, your grandmother had the Gift much stronger than I, so it made sense you would.’
Ona’tah’s face flushed again. ‘Except Grandmother, I never met another who could.’ She glanced at Craven. ‘But, he doesn’t have an aura, and I don’t understand why.’
Alli’quippa barked a laugh. ‘Oh, he has one, alright. One of the most vivid I ever saw.’
Craven had an aura! ‘Why can’t I see it?’
‘The Great Creator has seen fit to hide it from you, Child.’
Why would the Creator conceal Craven’s aura from her? Even if curiosity did kill the cougar, she had an eagle’s vision and she wanted to see whatever Alli’quippa saw. ‘What do you see?’
The head clan mother smiled, but answered, ‘The Creator acts as He does for a reason, Child. I cannot with a clean conscience tell you all.’
Upon hearing this, Ona’tah was even more interested. ‘What can you tell me?’
‘His aura is vivid and dark, though that is not uncommon with heroes and those that perform great deeds. It’s nowhere near as dark as young Hadawa’ko there, but much darker than his friend’s, the hero Kanin’guen.’
She could not imagine Craven performing a great deed. ‘What else?’
‘My, but you are curious, Child.’
‘Please, Honoured Mother!’
‘Very well, I shall tell you one more very important thing.’
Ona’tah leaned close to savour every word.
‘If Fat Man dies, the Eagle Clan dies with him. If he lives, your clan will prosper and weather the coming Age of Serpents intact.’
Craven would save her clan? ‘How can this be?’
Alli’quippa patted Ona’tah’s forearm. ‘I have told you too much already. A Gifted One should not know too much about her own future.’ She gestured to Craven. ‘Can you translate my words, Child.’
Ona’tah inclined her head. ‘It would be my pleasure, Honoured Mother.’
Alli’quippa smirked. ‘We shall see.’ She turned to face Craven, who was now staring into the air, obviously bored with the exchange in a language he couldn’t comprehend. ‘It is said that you are a great hero, Fat Man.’
Ona’tah translated these words, though she didn’t necessary think he was a great hero. A hero, maybe, loosely speaking, but it was going a bit far to call him a great one.
Craven reddened and bowed. ‘Just do what I must, Your Majesty.’
The courtesy he showed the head clan mother was pleasing. Ona’tah listened to Alli’quippa’s following words, and translated these too. ‘A hero who saves the life of Ganung’sisne’ha braves should be welcomed amongst the Six Nations as a brother.’
‘Thank you,’ murmured Craven.
‘For this reason, it is my intention to adopt you into the Wolf Clan and treat you as one of my own children.’
Craven’s gaze darted from left to right as if he sought escape, though Ona’tah couldn’t imagine why such an honour wouldn’t please him.
‘As a man proven in battle,’ Alli’quippa continued, ‘you must carry a suitable warrior name.’
Craven glanced at Father as if for reassurance, then said, ‘That would be nice, I suppose.’
‘I have selected a warrior name never given before, one I feel uniquely suited to you.’
Alli’quippa raised her hands and swept her gaze across all the assembled Ganung’sisne’ha. ‘All here present, bear witness to my words. The boy Fat Man is Fat Man no more. He was a boy, but now is a man and a warrior, and must be treated as such by all.’
‘Ni’io,’ murmured all the braves and noblewoman. Ona’tah translated this proclamation for Craven.
‘Ni’io,’ echoed Alli’quippa. ‘His warrior name shall be—‘
Everyone fell silent.
There was a babble of confused voices, and the people glanced at one another as if for reassurance that they had heard her right. Ona’tah felt the dishonour of this name as if she herself were the one so insulted. She glimpsed Hadawa’ko’s expression, and though he was not particularly friendly towards Craven, right now he looked as if he’d just seen his best friend cut down in a battle.
Father removed his cap and scratched his bald patch, then said, ‘Did I hear you right, Honoured Mother? Yan’cy?’
Alli’quippa nodded and stepped forward to touch Craven—she must call him Yan’cy—upon the head. ‘Yan’cy is your name from now and forevermore.’
Yan’cy—she would get used to his new name, disgraceful though it might be—glanced at her with a puzzled expression on his face. ‘What’s wrong? What does Yan-cey mean?’
‘Yan’cy,’ she emphasised, correcting his bad pronunciation, though a warm tear ran down her cheek as she spoke the shameful syllables. She wiped away the tear and sniffed, then said once again with more clarity, ‘Yan’cy.’
‘Alright,’ he said, looking around at the many shocked expressions. ‘My name is Yan’cy, but what does that actually mean?’
‘Ganung’sisne’ha words are complicated,’ she replied, avoiding his eyes. ‘One word can have many meanings. One meaning of Yan’cy is foreigner.’
Yan’cy frowned. ‘That’s one meaning, then. I suppose I am a foreigner to you. What’s another?’
Ona’tah gazed at her moccasins. ‘Slave. It can mean captive or slave.’
‘Like a Negro, you mean?’ asked Yan’cy.
Ona’tah shrugged. ‘I suppose so.’
Craven stared at her, his expression at once both hurt and confused. ‘What is it? I know that Yan’cy means something else. What is it that you’re not telling me?’
Ona’tah clenched her fists and turned to Alli’quippa. ‘This is disgraceful. How can you give him this name?’
The head clan mother stared straight at her without blinking. ‘I may not speak the honio’on’s language, but I understand that he wants to know what his new name means and you’re avoiding the answer.’
‘But, what has he done to deserve this name?’
‘Nothing,’ replied Alli’quippa. ‘I have named him thus for the sake of another. Yan’cy shall be made captive by a Ganung’sisne’ha, who shall make him their slave. The name is for that person, that they might come to better understand and appreciate Yan’cy’s true worth.’
Ona’tah turned back to Yan’cy, who examined her face as if he could find the answer to his question written there. She would not hide the truth from him any longer, though she couldn’t bear to look at him when she spoke. ‘Yan’cy means...it means coward.’