I need to add a quick disclaimer before the excerpt.
Though I want to honor the tradition of the Mandan Indians at the turn of the 20th century, there will be a turning point when Citlali and Onawa become Christians. I don’t plan to get preachy about it, but it’s going to end up happening. Historically, this did happen to some of the Native Americans with the white men who came to their tribes (for example, priests who came as missionaries). I’m not saying it happened for all of them, but it did for some and given the fact that I am a Christian, my leaning is toward writing Christian characters. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to those of you who are familiar with my historicals westerns, but just in case someone is reading this who hasn’t read those books, I felt it best to let them know where I’m headed with this book so they aren’t disaapointed when Citlali and Onawa don’t end up as they are in the beginning of the book. Plus, if this is not your cup of tea, you might wish to avoid this book.
With that disclaimer aside, the excerpt I’m sharing also provides the key conflict in the book: the struggle between one’s duties to a job (in this case the chief’s wishes) vs. the duties to one’s wife. It’s really Citlali’s book since he’s the one who stands to lose the most. Surprisingly, Citlali is one of the most emotionally charged characters I’ve ever written, but I guess that isn’t too off base since it’s often the silent ones whose passions run deep. 😀
“We need to keep to our traditions,” the chief began as he and Citlali made their way to his lodge in the quiet night. “Our numbers are dying, and intermarrying with the white people isn’t helping. We’re not adhering to our ceremonies as we once did. Less young people inquire about the legend of our people or care about sacred bundles. These white people want to come in and tell our people the Lone Man doesn’t matter. They want us to seek their ways.”
“While we can forbid the people from entering our tribe to do this, I don’t know how we can stop our people from making their own choices,” Citlali replied.
“What we need to do is get rid of the white people who live among us. We need to go back to our roots.”
Refraining from wincing, Citlali thought of Onawa’s sister who married the white man. Undoubtedly, Onawa would be hurt if her sister and sister’s children had to leave. With a hope he wasn’t speaking out of line, he asked, “What if we didn’t allow any more white people to live among us? Surely, those who are here now aren’t going to create problems.”
“I know you have friended Gary, even after he married the woman you were betrothed to.”
“It was her right to choose another man. It is not our way to begrudge a woman this.”
“No, it isn’t. But it meant you couldn’t marry two women, and that reduces our chances of replenishing our people to a sufficient number.”
Citlali didn’t bother saying that after what he experienced with Onawa, he held no desire to be intimate with another woman. It seemed much too personal to be with one woman like that. Not only that, but it never would have been as good with Woape. He didn’t have to try it to know it. Woape just wasn’t Onawa.
They reached the ceremonial lodge where they could talk in private. The fire in the middle of the lodge warmed Citlali, though he couldn’t help but wish it was Onawa warming him instead. He chastised himself for thinking such a thing. If he wasn’t careful, he’d end up weak.
The chief sat on a rug in front of the fire and picked up his pipe. Citlali sat on the rug beside him and rested his hands on his knees. The chief inhaled the tobacco and waited for a moment before he blew out the smoke. He handed Citlali the pipe. “You will succeed me one day,” he said, his voice solemn. “When you do, it’s imperative you do everything you can to keep the tribe together. We must survive.”
Citlali took a inhaled the tobacco from the pipe and handed it back to the chief. “I want our people to stay strong and thrive.” He just didn’t know how it was possible, and he couldn’t bring himself to tell that to the man who’d been like a father to him.
“Then you must do whatever it takes to make it happen. We’ve been too soft, too willing to compromise with the white man who turns around and forces us to move when he wants our land. The Lone Man can’t return if we’re not here. He protected our people long ago from the great flood by building a wall around our village. We owe him much for all he did.”
It seemed to Citlali if the Lone Man was so powerful, he would have protected them from the Smallpox that ravaged their people but held his tongue.
“Perhaps we need to seek guidance from the spirits,” the chief said before he brought the pipe to his lips and inhaled again. He blew out smoke and looked at Citlali. “You must go out on your own for a week and seek a vision.”
He nodded. “I’m due to seek one in April.”
“No. We can’t wait that long.”
“Then in March?”
The chief shook his head and handed Citlali the pipe. “Tomorrow. You will take your tent and go outside the tribe. I’ll send the tent and flint knife to your lodge in the morning, and you will head out to the sacred spot by the tree where I received my first vision and gained approval of the spirits. I will fast while you are away that you may receive their approval to continue on when I am gone.”
Citlali’s disappointment that he’d have to leave Onawa so soon after they married was replaced with the realization of what the chief was saying. “Are you ill?”
“Not yet, but I had a dream that my soul was light brown.”
“Then you’ll become a meadowlark when you die,” Citlali whispered, recalling the religious knowledge he bought a year earlier.
“It appears that is my destiny. I hoped to be a lodge spirit so I could stay here and watch over you as you assume my responsibilities, but the spirits have made their choice and it’s for the best.”
“Perhaps you will come to us as the meadowlark.”
“Perhaps, if the spirits will it.”
Citlali took the pipe back from the chief and swallowed. “I hope the dream you had is a long time in coming.”
“Now, Citlali, don’t expose your feelings. Your sorrow is apparent, and it’s not good. You must be strong. Any time you reveal your emotions, you become vulnerable. If you do that, you lose the respect of our people, and they will not follow your guidance. I am counting on you to preserve our people, our way of life. You must not fail me in this.”
Steeling his resolve, Citlali nodded. “I won’t.”
“Good. I don’t know when my time will come, but when it does, I’m ready to go.”
Not wanting to give away the grief he experienced at the thought, he settled for another nod so he didn’t have to speak lest he give his feelings away.
“Now, we have much to discuss,” the chief said, changing topics. “We must determine the best way to encourage marriages between full-blooded Mandans. One thing we aren’t doing right is that we’re showing the young that marriage with the white man—or woman—is acceptable by allowing the white people in our tribe. I’m afraid we have to tell them to leave.”
Citlali expected this from what the chief said earlier but still wished this wasn’t even a consideration. “What if we forbid anyone else to marry a white person?”
“They will see the white people here and the marriages they are in. It will give them ideas they don’t need to be having.”
“I did not desire a white woman because of the white people in our tribe.”
“But you understand how important it is to continue our line, our way of life. Many have lost this.”
No, it was more than that. When he saw Onawa, the fact that she was a full-blooded Mandan like him didn’t even occur to him, but he kept his thought to himself. Perhaps what frightened the chief was the fact that the white man encouraged one mate for life instead of multiple wives. The white man also didn’t regard divorce with the ease the Mandans did. Their ways were different, but based on how happy Gary and Chogan were, maybe different wasn’t bad. He sure would like the security in knowing Onawa wouldn’t grow tired of him and go back to her lodge, thereby divorcing him and taking the children they’d have together with her. Gary and Chogan didn’t have to worry about losing their wives or their children.
The chief handed him the pipe. “This is for the best. One day, when you are older, you’ll understand.”
Though Citlali doubted it, he kept his thoughts to himself.