Chapter XXIX

Smiles A Lot would have spent much more time in his lodge had it not been for the demands of others. Almost as soon as he got home, men started coming by to smoke or invite him out, and after a full day and night of constant interruption, he and Hunting For Something decided to leave Rabbit with one of his uncles, strike the lodge, and move a distance from camp, where they would be left alone.

They had returned at twilight on the day Ten Bears received the miracle of new sight and had just started to unpack when they heard the crier announce an important council that night.

Not long after they had started a fire the voice of Wind In His Hair sounded outside the door and Smiles A Lot was stunned to see him come inside. The great warrior walked to within a pace or two of the boy.

“Sit among the Hard Shields tonight,” Wind In His Hair said. “The bravest should always sit together.”

Smiles A Lot was too shocked to respond.

Wind In His Hair smiled thinly, reached out, and gave Smiles A Lot’s shoulder a few light taps.

“Someone will come by and bring you.”

Then he turned and, a moment later, ducked out the lodge flap.

Smiles A Lot and Hunting For Something had known Wind In His Hair all their lives. They saw him almost every day he was in camp. The history of his life was well known to them and yet they stood mutely, as if they had been poleaxed and would at any second crumble, senseless, to the floor.

As usual, it was Hunting For Something who found her tongue first.

“Sitting with the Hard Shields. .” she said, turning her face to his. “What does it mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“Does Wind In His Hair want you for the Hard Shields?”

“Maybe.”

“He wants you to sit with them.”

“Yes,” he answered. “Anyway, I have to make ready.”

“I’ll help you,” she said excitedly and skipped across the floor for the occasional bag that held Smiles A Lot’s things. “What is this council about? “

“Kicking Bird is going to make some talk,” he answered, settling himself in front of the fire.

As she brushed his hair and oiled it, and found the new moccasins she had just finished for him, she questioned him, but Smiles A Lot, who was usually happy to converse, answered in one-word replies. It was evident that some problem was occupying his thoughts.

“Do I look good?” he asked after he was standing again.

“You look like a warrior.”

Somehow Smiles A Lot was not pleased. With a wince he cast his eyes down and thought a moment more before gazing unhappily into her face.

“I have nothing for my scalplock.”

Hunting For Something was more concerned with his sadness than she was with his scalplock. She wanted to pull him close but did not.

Smiles A Lot began to pace.

“That white man I killed. . I should have taken his rings. I think he had some.”

“A white man’s ring,” she muttered critically. “Why would you want something so awful in your hair when you have that black racer standing outside?”

“I can’t put a horse in my scalplock,” Smiles A Lot laughed.

“A piece of him,” she countered. “A piece of him.”

Smiles A Lot cut a hank of hair from the black racer’s tail, and when Hunting For Something was done braiding it into his scalplock, the horsehair flowed along one temple, over his shoulder, spread down his back, and spilled over his buttocks like a living talisman. As he walked back and forth, in the way a haberdasher’s client might take a few steps to check the fit of a new suit, the voice of Shaking Hand called from outside.

Hunting For Something moved with him as he started for the lodge flap.

“You can speak if you want,” she reminded him.

“Why should I speak?”

“People want you to.”

Smiles A Lot couldn’t fully grasp that he had become a man of distinction. Everything had happened so quickly. He stared at her vacantly, but Hunting For Something only smiled.

“I won’t go to sleep,” she said matter-of-factly, and he stepped outside, the long swath of black horsehair moving behind him.

Ten Bears’ tent was already packed with warriors when he came inside. Smiles A Lot still felt he was dreaming as a place, only a few men removed from Wind In His Hair’s side, was made for him among the Hard Shields.

He had never sat in the front rank of a council, and as he let his arms relax on crossed legs, a flash of clarity lit inside him. Taking in the scene around him, Smiles A Lot realized suddenly that he knew what was about to happen.

Though the council had not started, the lodge was abnormally quiet. Flanked on either side by Kicking Bird and Wind In His Hair, the figure of Ten Bears provided a clear line of demarcation. The lodge was physically split by the followers of each warrior, yet each of them shared a uniformly apprehensive look on his face. There were always disagreements in council, and at times heated words were exchanged, but Smiles A Lot understood, even before anyone had spoken, that the division that would rend this council was something completely unprecedented.

Extraordinary as the tension was, it was surmounted in spectacular style by the appearance of Ten Bears. Every man made some whispered comment about the bizarre apparatus on his face, and the fact that it was a thing from the white world passed from warrior to warrior until it was known to all.

Smiles A Lot’s eyes fell toward his lap, then onto his hands, fingers, and wrists. He noticed the elegant curve of his fingers for the first time, and the supple, miraculous movement of his wrist. A prominent artery ran over his thumb, and where it stood at its highest he could see the steady pulse of his blood.

All at once he felt whole, the connection of everything that made him one person suddenly evident. The wavering flames in Ten Bears, fire were interchangeable with himself. They burned in concert for life — just as his own mind, body, and heart burned. And like himself, they were subject to the vagaries of wind and water, sun and air, wholly dependent on the Mystery for existence.

In the moments before the council convened, Smiles A Lot’s surprising transformation reached its climax, and by the time the pipe had traveled twice around the first circle, the boy who knew horses had shed an old, hindering skin. His perception had shifted from himself to the world around him. He was no longer self-conscious, and as Ten Bears made ready to speak, Smiles A Lot tuned his senses to receive the headman’s every word.

Ten Bears understood that the tension in his lodge was coming from an invisible fissure beneath his feet, a rift that separated Kicking Bird and Wind In His Hair and their followers from one another. To feel it troubled him, but as he looked out over the warriors gathered around him, he felt his heart and mouth come together and felt secure that his words, even if they fell short of unifying the opposing factions, would soar high above earthly cares, for he was sure they had been touched by the Mystery.

In silence the old man turned in a circle, passing his eyes over the crowd. When he had completed the first rotation he briefly lifted his face to heaven before beginning his address.

“We are all together,” he began. “It is good for Comanches to be together. Our power is always greater when that happens.”

As he spoke Ten Bears began to move, constantly shifting his attention from place to place, making contact with everyone sitting around him.

“You can see my face,” he continued, “and you can see this object I have lain over my nose. You may find it strange but do not fear it. It is a magical apparatus, for with it I can see you just as you see me.”

To demonstrate the proof of what he was saying Ten Bears picked out warriors all over the lodge, identifying them by name and alluding to unique items that adorned them.

“But I do not need this to see that the men in my lodge have two minds. One mind is for peace and one is for war. These two minds trouble me because peace and war cannot sit together comfortably, and my heart goes to the ground when I see Comanches divided.

“We know about the wagon raid and the great deeds that were done there,” he said, directing the words toward Wind In His Hair. “But Kicking Bird has been walking a different path and he has yet to tell us about it. We should hear what he has to say.”

Kicking Bird rose as Ten Bears descended. He, too, scanned the entire gathering, but as he began to speak he kept his face turned toward the Hard Shields and their sympathizers. Without embellishment or prejudice he described the meeting with the whites, taking care to personify the participants by giving their names and detailing their appearances.

But as he began to outline the substance of Hatton’s offer the Hard Shield contingent grew visibly restless and a sneer began to grow on one of Wind In His Hair’s lips. When Kicking Bird related the proposal for the Comanche and Kiowa to live in a single, restricted area, Wind In His Hair was finally compelled to interrupt.

“Put a Comanche in a pen and the Comanche will die.”

As if ignoring a heckler, Kicking Bird held up his hands for quiet and pushed on.

“I think Bad Hand and his soldiers would not mind if we defy him. I think he would be happy to make war on us. But he will not come to steal our horses or robes or weapons. They want only to drench the prairie with Comanche blood. White people give their soldiers money to do this.”

Again Wind In His Hair interrupted.

“If Bad Hand comes out here it might be his blood that goes into the earth. That might happen to any white man who dares to come into our country. I am ready to kill as many as I have to.”

A flutter of approving grunts and murmurs flew up around Wind In His Hair, and Kicking Bird waited for them to die down before he continued.

“I do not think all the whites are bad. . not all of them should be killed.”

Several shouts of derision sailed across the fire, but for the moment they succeeded only in hardening Kicking Bird’s reserve. He pointed sharply at Ten Bears and his voice rose.

“The white who knows how to make eyes new. . the one called Lawrie Tatum. . his heart is good. He wants only to serve us. . and the Kiowa, too. He wants to help us and take care of us.”

“Take care of us!” Wind In His Hair shouted, jumping to his feet.

“Put a Comanche in a pen and the Comanche will die! What do you say to that, brother?”

A hush followed Wind In His Hair’s outburst and, as all eyes fell on him, Kicking Bird seemed suddenly placid and majestic in the lonely silence that surrounded him.

“I agree,” he said quietly.

Wind In His Hair grunted haughtily.

“How would you die, my brother?” Kicking Bird asked.

“Like any man — as a warrior.”

“What of your wife, your children? How should they die? Fatherless? Starving? Helpless?”

“In a pen?” Wind In His Hair retorted.

Kicking Bird appealed now to everyone.

“I do not want my children to die. I want them to grow.”

“And what do you want them to eat? White man biscuits that soften the teeth and make them fall out? ” Wind In His Hair threw his arms out declaratively. “I want my children to grow on buffalo!”

A smattering of cheers erupted around the lodge and Wind In His Hair turned his fearful gaze on Kicking Bird once again.

“Comanche warriors defend their country and everything in it. They defend their brother the buffalo. What does Kicking Bird do? He sits at the feet of the whites like a child. He takes the puny hands of the enemy in his own while his relations fight and die. You are dirty with white men. You talk like a woman. . like a coward!”

The two warriors rushed each other but their charges were blunted by the lightning appearance of Smiles A Lot. His recent integration of self allowed him the freedom to move without thought, and he had started up as Wind In His Hair’s verbal assault reached its apex.

Now he stood spread-legged between the warriors, his hands grasping each of their shirts.

“You cannot fight!” he shouted. “Not in our grandfather’s lodge! Do not bring disgrace on him.”

The warriors understood the rightness of Smiles A Lot’s words and, as their tempers cooled, they looked down on Ten Bears. The old man was the picture of serenity. The would-be combatants glanced at each other sheepishly and offered apologies to Ten Bears.

“Forgive me, Grandfather,” they both said, almost in unison. Ten Bears acted as if he had not heard and did not look up as Wind In His Hair bent close to his face.

“Do not take offense, Grandfather, but the air in your lodge tonight has grown too stale for me to breathe. I wish you good night.”

With that the one-eyed warrior swept out, followed by the Hard Shields. The rest of the council was breaking up as he departed, but, unlike the many warriors who shared Wind In His Hair’s views, there was no unity among those who thought of peace. They walked out in mute little groups of two and three without speaking to Kicking Bird, who in the end found himself alone with Ten Bears.

The old man continued to smoke serenely, the glasses still fixed on his face, and after rejecting a multitude of parting comments, Kicking Bird settled on a simple good night and walked alone into the night.

No one could give him comfort, and Kicking Bird dragged his wounded heart into the special lodge, where he sat long into the night, struggling to recompose his shattered spirits. His dream of a workable rapport with the whites lay in pieces. He had lost the support of his staunchest adherents, men who had trusted his initiatives. Worse, he had lost face and could no longer expect that anyone would listen when he spoke.

In his misery Kicking Bird let his mind drift into the past. There his memory drew out the glory of difficult hunts, hairbreadth escapes, successful defenses, and a succession of enemies fleeing before the tidal might of Comanche warriors. Sifting through strong-hearted memories salved his despair and reminded him of the central role he played in the history of his generation.

It was true that he had always been curious about what lay beyond camp and had sought to find ways of living that would make his people more secure. But the memories he had sought as a balm told him emphatically that he had always been a warrior, and as he smoked into the night, he heard Wind In His Hair’s harsh words so often that he began to believe there was truth in what his old friend said. perhaps he had capitulated too soon. Perhaps he had deceived himself into throwing his warrior’s heart away. Perhaps he had forgotten to defend his country and everything in it, especially the buffalo. Perhaps he had taken the coward’s trail.

Restless, he stood up, and as he rose, found himself acutely aware of the vitality that still coursed through his body.

My legs, he thought, my arms, my hands and feet — they are all here but I use them hardly at all. And my heart. . where has my heart been? Isn’t it here in this lodge? Isn’t my heart with my people, just as it was when I met Hatton and Bad Hand? It is here. . it will always be here.

A few minutes later Kicking Bird summoned runners to carry a message to the Kiowa and Arapaho and Cheyenne. He woke the crier and instructed him to spread the news at first light. Kicking Bird was getting up a party of all who wanted to follow. This party was to strike a blow for the buffalo. It would sweep the prairies clean of the scourge that was destroying the animal without whom free people could not live.

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