by Mary Bell
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Robin’s head was spinning! Not from the bump on his head but from all the fascinating things he had heard and seen this wondrous day! He learned about the wild ponies the Lakota caught and trained for specific tasks. There were ponies for racing, hunting, war and for hauling their supplies from camp to camp. They came in all colors and temperaments! There was one stallion off in a pen by himself. When he asked about it, Talon replied that he would let no one near him, neither man nor beast!
As the day went on Robin felt more and more like he was home. Talon and Wahea reminded him of Little John and Marion. Windrider was a fighter like Kemal, and Eagle Eyes, although not large like Tuck, possessed the knowledge of medicine and herbs just like his friend the Friar. Soaring Eagle was a surly man, he seemed to be hard to get along with. Robin knew of no one in his camp like him. With luck, he never would. Just what he needed, more complications!
These amazing people believed that everything had a spirit. Not just the living but everything, even rocks and trees. Anything made by the Great Spirit. They called this the "Pte Oyate", or the spiritual life. Whenever the hunted and killed an animal, they thanked its’ spirit for giving its’ life so they can live. They believed if they took care of the world they lived in, then it would provide for them. What a novel concept, if only those in England felt that way. They took what they wanted without care for the consequences.
Each warrior wore a pouch or wanapin around his (or her) neck. Inside the wanapin were the special items from the earth that they were told to keep close to their heart. They were instructed what items to carry during their "vision quest". Upon reaching manhood, each warrior would purify himself in the sweat lodge and travel a few days away (on foot). The warrior would then pray, fast, and wait for the vision to come. Sometimes this took days. Sometimes the vision would not come and he would have to try again another time. If they did receive a vision, it remained intensely private. It was shared with no one, except perhaps the shaman.
The warriors proved their strength and courage in a ceremony Robin hoped he never witnessed. It was called the Sun Dance Ceremony. The warriors would fast, pray and purify themselves in the sweat lodge. They would then proceed, dressed only in their breechclouts, to the site of the ceremony. A huge pole would have been erected with ropes hanging from it. They would allow bone skewers to pierce the flesh of their chests. A rope was tied to the skewer and they were raised into the air. They would dance around suspended by their own flesh until they ripped free! Sometimes this could take hours! If they survived without shouting out in pain, they had demonstrated their courage and strength to all. Obviously, many of the warriors had participated as they bore the scars. Talon had yet to participate in the ceremony, however, White Eagle, Soaring Eagle and Windrider proudly displayed their scars. Wahea, considered a warrior by her people, was not allowed to participate in the ceremony for obvious reasons. Talon told him after the next buffalo hunt, he would have his chance.
Every time Robin saw Wahea, he was reminded of his beautiful Marion. He wondered if she was worried about him. Was she was out searching for him? He would not willingly cause her a moments heartache, yet he could do nothing to prevent it. He had to find a way home!
Two days later, Talon returned from the pony pens with an injured hand. It was not too severe and would not hinder him in the pony race being held in two days time. The entire camp was getting ready for the races and the feast and dancing afterwards. Wahea, Talon and their brothers were going to be in the race. Many of the young warriors would be in the race. Over the mid-day meal, Soaring Eagle posed an interesting question.
" Robin, would you like to be in the race?"
"I would love to but I have no pony to race." He replied. With an odd glint in his eyes, Soaring Eagle made an unusual offer.
" I have a pony you can ride. That is, if you can tame him first!"
"What pony are you referring to?" Robin asked.
" Black Thunder, the one penned by himself." was his response." Didn’t you tell me he would allow no man near him?"
Soaring Eagle just nodded his head while smirking, thinking Robin would not be up to the task. Windrider and Talon offered to help him with this task. Robin thought about it and since he always loved a challenge, he agreed. Soaring Eagle was not prepared for that answer, he however kept his word and allowed Robin to work with Black Thunder.
Later, at the pony pen, Robin was regretting his hasty agreement. The stallion was not going to allow him into the pen. He was the wildest animal Robin had ever seen. His eyes blazed at the sight of Robin near the pen. He shook his black mane and snorted while stamping his hooves. He pranced around angrily for a while and then just stopped and watched the young man. For the most part, the rest of the day was taken up with just trying to get into the pen. Each time he tried, the horse would rear up and try to kick him. Robin talked in a soothing voice continuously and did not make eye contact. After what seemed like days, the horse finally allowed Robin into the enclosure. That did not mean, however, that he would allow the young man near him. One time Robin moved a little too close and almost took a hoof to the head!
"Tell me why I am doing this again?" he said to Talon.
"For the honor!" he responded.
"Honor? Oh, the honor of being crushed beneath his hooves!" Robin said grinning.
By the end of the day, Robin had gained enough trust to be able to rub the horses’ nose. "Whew! Thank you for not kicking me. Marion would have killed me if I came home with a dent in my head!" he whispered to the black stallion. Tomorrow, he would attempt to put a lead on him. "Rest tonight wild one, tomorrow is going to be a big day!"
That evening, around the fire, Robin, Wahea, Talon and Soaring Eagle talked over the days’ events. Chief White Eagle and Blazing Star were out taking a walk. With all the people in their lodge, they had little time for themselves. It was obvious to Robin that they loved each other very much. They had been together since they were teenagers and lived through much. Wahea told him that it seemed their bond grew with each passing year.
"Robin, you did well with Black Thunder today." Windrider commented.
Robin responded with a nod, "He is one wild horse! He almost took off my head at one point! I hope I will be able to ride him tomorrow."
Wahea winked at him, "I am sure you will!"
Robin looked from one to the other and saw their mischievous grins, "Alright, what is going on? There is something you aren’t telling me!" Talon chuckled while Windrider tried to conceal his laughter.
"Well, we told you Black Thunder would let no man near him."
"Well, he has allowed a woman near him."
"What woman…. Oh….. never mind, I know, You Wahea!"
She was doubled over with laughter. When she regained her composure, she wiped the tears from her eyes and explained. " The only one that has been near the horse since my brother captured him is me. For some reason, he would allow no man near him. I have ridden him. I know you will because he let you near him after only one day! Soaring Eagle worked with him for a week and still he would try to kick his head off when he entered the pen!"
Robin understood now, " So when Soaring Eagle made his offer, he thought I would fail? Why would he want me to?"
"You are wasichun, white." Was the response.
"The color of my skin matters so much?" Robin was incredulous.
Talon took the lead in explaining a little of the problem. "When the white man came to our land, we welcomed him. We helped him, and all the while he was trying to steal our land. We have signed treaties which the white man breaks constantly. They kill all the buffalo and leave their corpses to rot on the plains. They cut down her trees to build their houses and plant none to replace them. They raid our camps and murder our women and children. They fight without honor! Now you see why some of us distrust the whites so much."
"But, why, then did you allow me here?" Robin asked.
"We are part white and know that not all whites are evil. Our grandparents were white and possessed great honor. How could we despise ourselves?" Wahea smiled. "Soaring Eagle does not claim his white heritage. He hates them all."
"Are the whites your only enemy?" Robin queried.
"Unfortunately, Robin, we have many enemies. There are other tribes which raid us and then we in turn raid them. The worst is the Crow. They fight like the wasichun, without honor. We, however, relish counting coup on them."
"Counting coup?" Robin asked Windrider as he was the one divulging all the information.
"Counting coup is where we go into an enemy camp without their knowledge and take something they will miss. Sometimes we just touch them. We then leave without them ever knowing we were there, until they discover the missing items. One of Wahea’s eagle feathers is from counting coup on the Crow chief!" Robin saw Wahea in a new light after that. She really was a lot like Marion!
Robin contemplated for a while, then said, " Yet with all the dangers, you live such happy lives!"
Wahea looked at him, " We can’t stop living life because there is a little danger. We must make the most of each and every day. One never knows when the Great Spirit will take you to the Mahpiya Ocanku, the ghost trail.
Later that evening, while lying on his buffalo robe, Robin thought about all that was said. His life had always been full of danger, yet with a little help from his friends, he had gone on. All of them had lived through their own losses yet had gone on with their lives. He began to understand, life was meant to be lived. You could not wait for it to come to you. You had to grab hold and enjoy the ride! When he got home, he decided to wait no longer! He and Marion would finally be together! That night, he slept like a baby.
The next day was a hectic one for everyone in the village. The women were preparing the food for the post-race celebration, the men not racing, were busy wagering on their favorite riders and the riders were preparing their mounts. Robin could not believe the amount of food being prepared. The women were certainly working hard!
Everything but the venison was being prepared today. The venison would be prepared during the day tomorrow. In the morning, a few chosen ones would go out hunting. They would have to bring down more than one animal as the village was very large and they had to have enough for everyone. The meat would be roasted over great pits while the race was under way. The hides would go to the winner of the race! He could do with them as he wanted. With that many hides, he would be a rich man, indeed.
Robin spent the day working with Black Thunder. He managed to attach a lead to his rope bridle and lead him around the enclosure for a good while. When he felt he would follow him, Robin guided him down to the river. Windrider had told him of a technique for taming a horse and he was going to try it. He went to a point where the water was not too deep yet still deep enough to hinder the horses’ movements and led him in.
At first, Black Thunder resisted, but with some calming words and strokes of his neck, he went into the water. He was jittery and ready to bolt at any minute. Robin knew he would have to keep his concentration if this was going to work. After reaching the right depth, Robin placed his hands on the horse’ back and pushed up on him. Black Thunder was not pleased! He thrashed about and tossed his head in anger and fear.
"Easy boy." Robin reassured him.
The more he spoke to him in the soothing tone, the more calm he became. Three more times Robin tried to put his weight on him with the same results.
Robin refused to give up. Finally, he decided to just go for it! He vaulted onto the horses’ back and held on for dear life! Black Thunder snorted and tossed his head and bucked for what seemed like an eternity. All the while Robin looked like a rag doll in a dogs mouth! Still he hung on! The more the horse tried to throw him off the more tired he became. The water was hindering his ability to fight!
Finally, the bucking stopped. Robin could not believe it! He was sure his neck would snap before the stallion gave up its’ fight. Black Thunder’s sides were heaving and he was still snorting a little but he had given up his fight to throw Robin off. Carefully, Robin guided him out of the water. He steeled himself for another onslaught as they came up on the river bank. None came. He patted the stallion’s neck and dismounted.
Robin discovered his legs were too shaky to hold him! He was thankful Black Thunder was there because he had to grab onto his neck for support. It was then he realized that he had an audience. Soaring Eagle was scowling. Wahea, Talon and Windrider were smiling from ear to ear!
They followed him as he walked on wobbly legs back to the enclosure to take care of Black Thunder.
Wahea grinned at him as she took the lead from him," Go eat and rest, Robin. I will tend to your horse." He gratefully accepted her kind offer, as he did not think he would be able to stay erect for too much longer.
In a gesture meant to disguise it’s true meaning, Talon and Windrider threw their arms over his shoulders in congratulations. He was grateful for their support as he would not have made it back to the lodge without it. Gently he fell to the ground and stretched out his legs. He flexed them back and forth to regain the feeling in them. He had held on so tight that he had cut off his own circulation. Talon and Windrider watched him knowingly.
When Robin looked up, Talon was grinning at him, " You’ll give me one heck of a good race tomorrow, but I’ll still win!" Windrider just sat there with a smug look on his face.
"We’ll see!" Robin tossed back playfully! " Now, I am starving!"
After eating a dry meal of jerky and water, Robin decided he needed to take a nap. He was wore out! He gingerly rose to go inside the lodge ( to Talon’s hearty laughter) and lay down on his buffalo robe. He was asleep in seconds. His dreams were full of Marion smiling and laughing. He awoke feeling refreshed!
Early that evening, Robin once more rode Black Thunder. This time, however, it was on dry land and he was not a human rag doll. Talon and Wahea took him on the route the race would take. He familiarized both himself and Black Thunder with it. It was very late when they arrived back in camp. They took care of the horses and quickly bathed at the river. Then they quietly slipped in the lodge and climbed onto their sleeping robes. As exhausted as they were, sleep was a long time in coming. The excitement of the race loomed before them preventing the much needed rest.
End of Chapter Three
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