Seven thousand years ago, major climactic change was ushering in a 3,500 year drought. For a small band of pioneers in what is now Wyoming and the Montana Mountains, it was a time of fire. As they struggled valiantly to keep their ancestors' dreams alive in an unforgiving, drought-stricken land, a heroic young dreamer and a fearless woman warrior united to lead their people to a magnificent destiny.
A towering epic filled with tragedy and triumph, courage and conflict, People of the Fire is another compelling novel in the majestic North America's Forgotten Past series from New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear
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Kathleen O'Neal Gear is a former state historian and archaeologist for Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska for the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has twice received the federal government's Special Achievement Award for ""outstanding management"" of our nation's cultural heritage.
W. Michael Gear holds a master's degree in archaeology and has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants.
Together they have written the North America's Forgotten Past series (People of the Morning Star, People of the Songtrail, People of the Mist, People of the Wolf, among others); and the Anasazi Mysteries series. The Gears live in Thermopolis, WY.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The lodge trapped the heat of the night, warm and muggy despite the rustling dry wind shivering the smoke-browned hide cover. The cover had been drawn down tight, firmly pegged to the hard clay in order to form a seal so that none of the malicious Spirit Powers might wiggle beneath to steal in and find a home. The People did that during a birthing. Newborn children had no soul, and into that warm haven any manner of evil could creep. To further ward off harmful powers, sagebrush—the lifegiver—had been piled around, the purposely bruised leaves adding a rich pungency to the desiccating air.
From where the boy crouched outside in the darkness, a frayed seam had come unraveled enough to allow a peephole view of the interior.
A single fire of punky cottonwood smoldered and smoked, adding to the stifling heat in the lodge and giving light in the midst of so dark and windy a night. The warm, steamy air issuing from inside puffed on the boy’s eye. It brought the odors of tanned hide, smoke, and sage to his nose. Mixed with it were other smells of sweat, wood, and fear. The delicately bitter taint of herbs wafted out as he watched.
Dancing Doe cried out where she lay naked on sweat-soaked robes. The smooth planes of her young face twisted and contorted as her belly contracted, seeking to force the child within from the safe confines of her womb. Between her breasts lay a natal bundle, a figure in the shape of Turtle—the magical animal that never sickened. Turtle brought health and luck. He disappeared with the coming of the winter gales, crawling down into the Earth Mother, returning when Father Sun brought spring and life to the world. The fetish on Dancing Doe’s breast had been constructed of finely sewn antelope hide and stuffed with sage, bits of twigs, feathers, and other sorts of Power.
On her belly, a series of designs had been drawn to center the Spirit Power of birth. The most important, a bright yellow stripe, had been painted down from the natal bundle between her full breasts to end in a point in the mat of her black pubic hair. The Path of Light, it would lead the child on its way to the world.
The boy stared, feeling the Power of the women’s chant within. Though he feared discovery, he couldn’t force himself away from the fascinating events. He knew his mother would punish him—and Two Smokes would no doubt even now be looking for him, beginning to worry about his absence from his sleeping robes.
A night of heat, a night of pain. Across the mound of Dancing Doe’s swollen belly, two women—one young, one old—looked at each other, worry etching their tension-worn faces.
The old woman’s gray hair glinted in the light. Patterns of wrinkles were cast into a tracery of shadows across her withered face. The set of her mouth had gone grim as she continued her vigil over the struggling woman. Back curved from age, she hunched, upper body bared and sweaty in the heat. Long-dry breasts hung low and flat over the folds of her stomach. Lines of scars puckered the wrinkled skin of her shoulders, mute evidence of the number of times she’d offered bits of herself to the Spirit World. The people called her Choke-cherry, after the bittersweet plant that grew in the high lands.
The boy watched as his mother, Sage Root, crouched to help, her anxious eyes on Dancing Doe’s fevered body. He knew that strained look. Worry marked the faces of all the People. Lines, like arroyos on the land, etched deep into their faces. But the helpless concern his mother betrayed frightened him. When Dancing Doe cried again, his gut tightened like sun-dried sinew.
Poor Dancing Doe. Her husband, Long Runner, had gone to hunt the foothills of the Buffalo Mountains. He’d never returned.
Chokecherry took a breath, reaching into a neatly sewn sack to withdraw damp sage and sprinkle it on the red eyes of coals. The perfume of life roiled up on a mist of steam.
She chanted softly in a singsong, “Come, little one. Come to walk in life and bless the land and sun and plants and animals. Come to join us on the path to the Starweb which leads to all good things. Hear our song. Hear our joy. Come, little one. Come into this world and make us smile.”
Dancing Doe grunted again, tensing the muscles of her powerful brown legs. She sucked a frantic breath, exhaling sharply, eyes clamped tight, teeth bared in a rictus of effort. Beads of sweat traced irregular paths down her trembling flesh.
Sage Root gripped Dancing Doe’s fingers in her own. “Easy. Breathe easy. It won’t be long now.”
Dancing Doe relaxed as the spasms passed. She gasped and looked up at the old woman, who continued chanting. “It doesn’t always take so long. Chokecherry, is it all right? Am I dying?”
The old woman finished the litany and lifted a shoulder, smiling. “I’ve borne children more difficult than this. It’s your first time. Those muscles have to be stretched and they don’t know how yet. Nothing’s torn. All that’s come out is water—washing you, you see, making the way clean. That’s all.” She looked across, laughing reassuringly. “Just like Sage Root. She kept me and Horn Core up for almost a whole day.”
Sage Root smiled wistfully. “I remember. But my son was born strong.”
Only when Dancing Doe closed her eyes and nodded did Sage Root’s expression tighten. Tension hung in the air like winter mist, reflected in the set of her features and in Choke-cherry’s burning eyes. It drifted from the rent in the lodge to settle like a water-heavy green hide on the boy’s shoulders.
Chokecherry resumed singing under her breath, taking another handful of sage leaves from the pouch and sprinkling it over the fire to fill the lodge with a clinging steamy odor.
Dancing Doe cried out, anguish palpable as her belly tightened.
“Should we call Heavy Beaver?” Sage Root’s hard eyes leveled on Chokecherry’s.
From where he sat outside, the boy winced. Heavy Beaver, the Spirit Dreamer of the People, brought that kind of reaction. In his head, a voice whispered, “No.”
Like a shadow in the night, he eased back, parting the piled sagebrush with careful fingers and creeping from his peephole. Free of the brush, he sprinted across the camp on light feet, heedless of the barking dogs. Before him, on the packed clay, the lodges huddled, squat, the bottoms rolled up over the peeled poles to allow the night breeze to blow through and cool the occupants where they slept on grass-padded bedding. Here and there, the sanguine eye of a dying fire cast a sunrise sheen on boiling pouches hanging from tripods, black orbs of hearthstones dotting the glowing coals.
Cottonwoods rose against the night sky, silhouetted black; the ghostly image of clouds could be vaguely discerned against the exposed patches of stars. In the trees, an owl hooted cautiously.
“Wolf Bundle,“ the voice in his head whispered.
Before he reached the lodge, he recognized Two Smokes’ figure hobbling across the camp. No one walked like Two Smokes. “Two Smokes?” He changed course, trotting up.
“There you are! I’ve been half-sick worrying about you. Here your father is gone to hunt, your mother is—”
“I need you. I think we need the Wolf Bundle.”
“The Wolf Bundle?” Two Smokes cocked his head, the familiar curious expression hidden by the shades of night. Tone softening and reserved, he asked in his Anit’ah-accented voice, “Why do we need the Wolf Bundle, Little Dancer?”
He hesitated. “I just ... well, a voice told me.”
“A voice? The one that speaks in your head?
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