Page 5

But as for himself…

In the dream, he groaned.

It's time again, his grandfather told him.

I know, he replied. I've felt it coming.

His grandfather nodded.

So they stood together again in that valley near the Black Hills, and the mist began to swirl around them.

Those who thought that native peoples were stoic, that they did not show their emotions, were wrong. He felt, in the deep recesses of the dream, the love that came to him through time, through space. Through the darkest boundary of death.

He woke. And when he did, he sighed, looking at the rays of sun that streaked through his bedroom window.

Nothing to do about it. Go along with his life as it had been planned.

When he was needed, Adam would find him.

Nikki awoke in the morning, feeling oddly exhausted.

She felt as if she had barely slept at all, and she knew it was because she had tossed and turned in a series of weird nightmares.

She couldn't remember her dreams; she just had the lingering sense of having spent the night in a whirl of very strange sensation. It left her with an odd feeling.

A foreboding.

Oh, man!

She tried to shake it off. It was a beautiful morning. The sun… she could just see it peeking in through her drapes.

She rose, thinking it must have been the conversation with Mrs. Montobello and then Contessa's reading.

This sense of unease wasn't something she usually felt. Even when the "ghosts" were around. The ghosts were benign… faint indentations upon the present that simply lingered. There was a sweet nostalgia to what she saw and felt, something that made her feel even more affectionate toward her home, reassured her that New Orleans was special.

But there had been something about the dreams last night. Something…

Something that was malignant rather than benign.

Something that seemed to be a warning.

"Hey, it's a beautiful day," she said aloud, and went into the bathroom, where she splashed her face with cold water.

Suddenly she was afraid to look up. Afraid to look in the mirror above the sink. If she looked into the mirror…

Would someone else be looking back at her?

She had to look up, of course. She couldn't remain in her bathroom forever, bent over the sink.

She looked up. And felt like a fool. There was nothing there but her own reflection.

She gave herself a shake, got ready quickly and left the house.

And still…

That sense of foreboding clung to her, like a gray mist, damp and chill against her flesh.

* * *

Chapter 3

"A, first man wandered the earth with little thought as to the great beyond, to right or wrong, and the way that he should live. Then came the White Buffalo Woman. Two hunters were out one day, and she appeared. She was very beautiful, dressed in white skins, and she carried something in a pack that she wore on her back. Now, when I say beautiful, she was stunning. And one of the hunters thought, 'Hmm, now there's a woman I would like to have in my tepee,'" Brent Blackhawk said, scanning the eyes of his audience.

"Have in his tepee?" one of the older boys teased lightly.

"Do you mean date?" asked one of the girls.

"Something like that," Brent said dryly. "But, you see, she was the White Buffalo Woman, and not to be taken lightly. She saw that the hunter had designs on her, so she crooked her finger toward him, and thinking himself the big and mighty hunter and warrior, he approached her. But as he did so, white fog rolled out around the both of them. And when it dissipated, the great and mighty warrior had been turned to bone. And as the bones fell to the earth, they were covered with snakes that writhed and crawled among them."

"Ugh!" cried one of the younger girls.

"What happened then?" asked the older boy who had heckled him before.

"Ah, well, the other hunter was naturally amazed—and more than a little afraid. But the woman told him to hurry to his village and tell the elders, chiefs, shamans and all the people that she was coming, and that she had a message to give that all must heed. The hunter hurried to the village and relayed his story, and everyone—from the great chief to the smallest child—dressed in his and her best and gathered in the great tepee as if for a council, and awaited her. She came, beautiful in her white, carrying the bundle that she had previously worn on her back."

"And what then?" asked a boy of about eleven.

"First she took a stone from the bundle and set it on the ground. Then she took out a pipe. It had a red stone bowl, the color of the earth, and she said that it stood for the earth. There was a calf carved upon it, and the carving stood not just for the calf but for all the creatures that walked the earth. The stem of the pipe was wood, and that stood for all things that grew. There were beautiful feathers attached to the pipe, and they stood not just for the hawks and eagles, but for all the birds that flew in the sky. When she had explained all this, she said that those who smoked the pipe would learn about relationships—first, with the Wakantanka, had come before them, grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, and those who would follow, sons and daughters. All relatives were bound as one and meant to be honored. All the earth was sacred and to be cared for. All were to be respected."

The boy of eleven looked troubled.

"What is it?" Brent asked.

"We're not supposed to smoke," the boy told him solemnly.

Brent smiled. "You're Michael?" he asked, trying to remember all the names.

"Michael Tiger," the boy said proudly.

"Michael, you're right. Smoking isn't just very bad for your health, it's an expensive and annoying habit."

"Then how can anyone smoke the sacred pipe?" the girl at Brent's side asked.

Brent lowered his head, smiling. "The sacred pipe is now part of a ceremony. There are very specific times when the pipe may be smoked among the Lakotas, you see."

"You never finished the story," another of the girls pointed out.

"Ah, yes," Brent said. "Well, the rest of the story relates to what we're saying now. The stone that the White Buffalo Woman put down at first had seven little cuts in it. They indicated those very special times when the pipe might be smoked, ceremonies to honor all that she was teaching. They would be part of the relationships that the people must learn so that they would not be like animals, wandering the earth, without care for it or those around them. When she had taught them a bit more, she walked a few steps away. Then she turned into a brown and white calf. Again she walked, and this time she became a white calf. After a few more feet, she became a great black buffalo. She left the council tepee and walked up a hill and there she bowed to the four corners of the earth, north and south, east and west, and then…"

"And then?" Michael Tiger demanded.

"She vanished," Brent said.

"But… why did she come, if she was only going to disappear?" Michael asked.

"She came to teach the people to respect and care for one another, for the earth itself, and for all creatures, and for all the gifts that were given to man, even the stones and the river and the ground," Brent said. He smiled, rising. "That is the Lakota legend of the White Buffalo Woman." He swept an arm out, indicating the many people who were attending the festival, a gathering of tribes deep in the Florida Everglades. It wasn't a reenactment of the old days—vendors sold soda, popcorn, tribal T-shirts, corn dogs and other non-native foods, while rock bands filled the air with sounds that would certainly have shocked the White Buffalo Woman. He'd come with a group called the Wild Chieftains, and since he had something of a reputation as a storyteller, he'd been asked to tell a few legends to the children. They weren't all Indian, and that pleased him. The children represented local tribes, such as the Miccosukee and Seminole, along with Cree, Creek, Cherokee and others. There were also a number of African-Americans, Hispanics and whatever mix the so-called "whites" might be. He'd heard British and German accents in the crowd, so even the tourists had come out for the festival.

"The truth is, every group has its own legend. The Great Spirit is God to some and Allah to others. There are many paths a man—or woman—might take to reach the same place. The important part of the story is that we all need to respect and take care of one another, and respect the earth, as well," Brent said, grinning.

Then his grin faded as he looked past the children, and saw, in the group of adults standing behind them, a familiar face.

A too-familiar face. That of a man he knew well.

But hadn't he been expecting him?

"Are you really a Lakota?" one of the little girls asked him. "Your eyes are green."

"Oh, Heidi," Michael Tiger said, sighing, as if he were possessed of a great deal more wisdom than she, a younger child, and a girl. "My sister's eyes are blue, because my stepmother is mostly German. People mix up."

"Was your mother mostly German?" the girl asked.

He grinned. "Irish," he told her.

"But your father was all Lakota?" Michael asked hopefully.

"How about this—my grandfather, Chief Soaring Blackhawk, was all Lakota," Brent said. He could feel the eyes of Adam Harrison boring into him as he spoke. He could also see the man's smile. Adam was very much enjoying the way the children were putting him on the spot.

"Is it easier to be only half-Indian?" Susan asked, her tone serious.

Brent ignored Adam for a moment, hunkering down in front of the little girl. "Let's hope that very soon it won't matter whether we're red, black, tan, yellow, white… male or female. Or whether we believe in the White Buffalo Woman, the teachings of Buddha, Allah or God."

"Yeah!" The little girl turned to stare at Michael.

"She is really smart," Michael told Brent grudgingly. "She makes the best grades in school. Especially in math." He made a face.

"I said I'd help you," the girl protested.

Brent had a feeling he was watching a budding romance. "Take her up on it, eh, Tiger?" he said, and smiling, he waved a hand, starting away from the group that had gathered around him. His departure was acknowledged with a nice round of applause. He smiled, waved again, and Adam caught up with him.