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Sample Chapter: Tiana, Gift of the Moon

Tiana, Gift of the Moon~ Chapter 1 ~

Northern Canada and Alaska A.D. 600

“He comes! The giant sun-touched bear walked through our camp last night leaving his signs behind!” Quaanta, a man who seldom showed his feelings, bent his head to peer into the tent at the two women and the girl sitting astonished before him.

“It is an omen. Surely it foretells the end of our hunger.” Grandmother was the first to recover from the shock of seeing her daughter’s mate in such a state of excitement.

Tiana, a child of nine summers shook her head. To slay a grizzly was forbidden under any circumstances, even if the tribe starved to death. Her father knew that.

Quaanta withdrew his head and shoulders from the tent flap. “The shaman has called a meeting in the kaslim, the big tent.”

The women and the girl sat in silence after Quaanta left. Finally they started dressing in their outer furs, with no words coming forth, so great were their apprehensions.

Outside, the bite of the northern wind sweeping down from the nearby mountains chilled Tiana to the bone in spite of her jacket made of badger skins and the wolverine cover for her head. She looked around the camp at the snow swirling and sifting around and through the village of caribou and moose hide tents, as if seeing it for the first time this winter. Most of the tents were conical shaped to prevent snow piling up and offered a small opening to crawl in and out of. Some of the tents which were put up by less skilled families had snow piled high on the sides, now hardened in the brittle cold of the forest. Wind shrieked between the willows and pines in a never-ending cacophony of discord. The tribe named this the winter of the big snows which Quaanta, her father, said was the reason the game had disappeared.

 

Tiana, Gift of the Moon

The shaman, however, warned that someone had angered the tribe’s spirits.

Inside the large tent, the two women and Tiana sat in their accustomed place.

“Mother, I am sleepy.” Tiana rubbed her eyes and looked petulantly up at the woman. They rested on soft caribou skins and yet the slender girl did not have protection against the hard earth beneath the furs and her bones hurt. They sat packed shoulder to shoulder with the adults of her tribe. Tiana was the only child permitted except for babes held close in their mothers’ arms. The air was stale and heavy inside the room packed with kinsmen dressed in furs and hides to keep off the sharp night air. The little girl had interrupted her mother’s concentration, but Akiia was patient.

“Hsst! Tiana, you must not speak out! You are nearly grown and were brought here to observe and learn. You, too, will be shaman when it is time. You must pay attention, watch every movement the shaman makes, for it all has a meaning. Memorize his chants. It is only in this manner you will learn to summon the spirits you will need later.” The girl let out a submissive sigh, which did not deceive her mother, not even a little.

“Ayya-yayyay-ayya-yayyay—.” Tiana watched the villagers crowded inside the large caribou skin tent belonging to the shaman; a man who seemed as ageless and ancient as the pine trees surrounding the encampment. The shaman held the group enthralled as he performed his magical rites. He pranced through burning coals showing no signs of distress. He made voices, deeper and stronger than his, emanate from behind the crowd and when they turned to look, no one was there. But the people waited in anticipation for his visit to the moon. They had heard a grizzly near the camp during the night and seen paw prints. A powerful spell must be put on the bear’s spirit, to make it amenable to being slain by the hunters.

Tiana was not too young to know that in normal times these giant beasts were taboo for eating. Their tribe was known as the Bear Tribe and the grizzly was their totem. Now, though, some of the old ways had to be set aside. She’d known many elders and some of the more delicate youngsters who had already died from lack of food. This was the worst season for hunger in anyone’s memory. She shivered at the thought of the tribe eating the taboo animal. Only a powerful spell from the shaman could expiate this terrible happening.

Tiana’s gaze fastened on the familiar figure of her mentor. The shaman was elderly, yet not old and filled with aches and pains like her grandfather. She knew that, before the oldest person’s memory, no one knew when the shaman came to the tribe. He had just always been there. His name was never mentioned and he forbid anyone to speak it out loud. Tall and thin, he kept himself clean, his hair trimmed and clubbed with a skin tie at the nape of his neck like the other males of the tribe. He washed his own clothing, not trusting anyone to disturb his mystical skills. His tent was well kept and he knew where every little item was supposed to be.

 

Tiana, Gift of the Moon

When Tiana visited him each afternoon, she sat in her designated place on a special bear skin by the door flap and never moved from there. He was a kind man, but strict.

The shaman’s voice droned on. The heel of his palm pounding the flat drum, with a soft, monotonous tone, echoed the peoples’ heart beats. It caused heads to nod and jerk, nod and jerk as they fell into a gentle sleep and then woke again and again. Each time they slept longer. Finally the light of the flickering lamp went out and silent darkness enveloped them all. Only the voice of the shaman could be heard in concert with the wind.

Tiana closed her eyes. The shaman had taught her how to concentrate to stay awake, unlike the others. This time was important to a shaman. An enthrallment of everyone’s thoughts allowed a tranquility within a shaman’s domain to accept visions, dreams and visitations from outsiders. A scene of her father and the hunters imprinted itself on the inside of her eyelids. Gazing in rapt attention, the sight unfolded in front of her. She had not had many visions but those which came were powerful and true.

In the vision, Quaanta, his name meaning the hunter who never fails to bring food to his family, searched for the grizzly with the men of the village. In spite of the shaman’s special seance to insure the success of the hunt, she could feel they did not go with joy in their hearts. None of the group, not even the bravest hunter, would deliberately search out one of the spiritually dangerous bears except for dire need.

The hunters stalked through the woods, carefully treading in one another’s snow-steps, her father in the lead. The bear must not be made offended by so many men tracking him. It was proper that only a lone hunter challenge a grizzly to the death, armed solely with his knife and lance. And never for food but sometimes to prove his manhood.

She heard the crisp crunch of the snow under their boots and the soft whisper of the wind following stealthily through the pines. Her small body felt the tension of the men as they crept forward. The sensation was so strong it almost pulled her from the vision but she renewed her concentration, knowing this was important to all of them.

Suddenly her gaze jumped over the hunters to a clearing ahead of them. Her mouth dried and her heart leaped in her chest. The massive animal stood upright, swaying as if he could see through the trees to the approaching men. She knew he could see them, and was calmly waiting. The bear was not the golden brown she expected to see, but pure white, with dark markings like shadows around his eyes.

 

Tiana, Gift of the Moon

The White One! It was a powerful omen. She’d heard stories passed down from the elders. Once a white bear came into their village and conversed with the people in their own tongue. They were very hungry and were prepared to slay the creature, but the bear offered an exchange that gave the people food to survive the long winter. That was how the tribe received its name and totem. Since then, no one had seen a white bear in many generations.

The hunters might not know it was the White One until too late. They must not harm this bear. Tiana knew she must offer a chant to prevent harm to the bear and her people. Ignoring the chills sweeping up and down her arms and the dryness in her throat, her chant began in a whisper and grew louder as she went on.

“Father Bear, your golden fur has turned white,

your beauty wondrous to behold.

Oh powerful and great one, with the body and heart of a giant...

Do not take notice of my father and my kinsmen

advancing through the forest.

Let them pass.”

Pausing in her song, hearing the indrawn breaths of those closest around her, she dared not lose her concentration. In her mind’s eye she focused on the far away scene. Her voice lost its little girl quality and took on the vibrancy of an adult, the woman whose destiny she was to fulfill.

“O great spirit of the forest, hear me,

Tiana, daughter of the woodland,

gift of the moon.

I offer a promise of the future.

One day I will be Raven Woman.

From that day forward

we will be as brother and sister.

Take what you will as an offering, but

do not permit yourself

to be the cause of misfortune

for our people,

should they break the taboo

and slay you.”

 

Tiana, Gift of the Moon

Her eyelids fluttered as the bear’s roar of challenge rang in her ears and echoed through her slender body. Inside the tent, no one spoke until Tiana began to stir again, rubbing her eyes as if she had been asleep. Her indoor clothing of scraped rabbit skin was drenched with sweat, her trembling hands clutched the Raven belt, her fingers tracing over the carvings in the ivory squares.

How did the Raven Belt come to her from its hanging place in their tent? The puzzled looks on the faces of her mother and grandmother showed they too had not seen her leave to bring back the belt. She rose from her seated position to be heard, and told them of her vision.

The dark eyed stares of the people almost drove her to her knees, but she held to her mother’s shoulder to steady herself. The shaman nodded but remained silent, as if considering her words. Quaanta unfolded his long legs and stood, along with the hunters who had been ready to leave at daybreak When none of the hunters spoke, Quaanta asked, “Are you certain it was a white bear?” At Tiana’s nod, he asked, “When will this happen?” thrusting his strong voice into the sea of whispers surrounding them.

She opened her eyes at his terse speech. Quaanta’s dark brows grew nearly together across his forehead, giving him a look of perpetual bad temper. Her father could be kind and gentle to his family, yet stern and unyielding toward others. The tribe had no special leader, but they all looked to Quaanta for guidance. Tiana shook her head. “I do not know, Father. The vision is gone. If you slay the beast or are slain by him, it will be the same. Our people will be cursed by the taboo to suffer greater hardships than they have ever known and it will continue through the smallest child’s lifetime.”

The grandmother and the mother looked at each other and shivered.

Quaanta beckoned for the hunters to follow him and stepped past Tiana, his chin tilted up, not deigning to speak to the females of his family. Tiana knew she had embarrassed him and he would wait no longer to begin their hunt. Several of the older men seemed reluctant to leave with him, but seeing the younger hunters following in Quanta’s lead soon changed their minds and the men moved together, quietly out of the large tent, their heads high.

As soon as the last hunter left the tent, the people rushed to their feet and ran outside, eyes averted from the painful sight of the men slinking off into the forest without the usual joyous celebration and singing of praises for the animals they were about to hunt. Tiana knew it was her vision that caused the break in custom and it hurt that she stood alone in this.

Akiia turned to Tiana and took her hands, putting them to her cheeks. “You are so young, not yet versed in the way of the shaman. Are you so certain of your dreams, my child? This could cause damage in our family that cannot be healed.”

 

Tiana, Gift of the Moon

The shaman walked up to them, glaring at Akiia until she dropped her daughter’s hands.

“Tiana is young in summers, but her thinking is not young and never has been. When little girls play in the dirt and leaves with images of small people carved from wood, Tiana sits aside from them, separate. Her eyes are always full of thought, her hands mold likenesses of small animals from mud and bits of dried vegetation, as I have taught her. She brings her offerings to me and I place them in the sacred fire within my dwelling. When they harden, I give them to the people as charms to ward off sickness and untimely death. This serves as part of her discipline as an apprentice to the shaman.” For a time all was silent for never had the shaman uttered such a long speech and never about Tiana.

He waved his arms, producing a heavy smoke around his body and when it cleared he had disappeared. The villagers left for their own abodes without speaking, very unusual after an event in the meeting tent.

Tiana was certain her vision was true, in spite of the brief moment of anxiety.

Back inside their own shelter, Tiana looked at her mother and grandmother. Her heart felt bursting with love for them. She often wondered if she might be a disappointment to her mother, who perhaps longed for a daughter more like other daughters. But she had never been like the others and never would be. Girls and boys her own age avoided her, politely keeping their distance. Possibly that was the reason her mother wished for more children so badly.

Her mother answered her unspoken question as if Tiana had said the words out loud, so close were they in thought. “Two babes died stillborn before you and one after. I met with the shaman to obtain his blessings for my fertility, there came no other brothers or sisters.”

Tiana knew this and felt saddened for her mother.

Akiia brought a hot bowl of broth and knelt in front of Tiana, wiping her daughter’s forehead with her cold palm. She smiled into her eyes. Behind the smile, Tiana saw the negation of her own previous thoughts. Her mother was not disappointed in her and did not wish to exchange her daughter for any other children, the look said. Tiana pretended to sip the fragrant liquid. As soon as the women turned away, she poured the contents back into the pot. Her stomach gnawed with painful hunger pangs, but this cauldron of broth might have to feed many people. Whatever they cooked or whatever Quaanta and Grandfather killed, they always shared with everyone in the group, for were they not all kin?

 

Tiana, Gift of the Moon

“Try to rest, it will do no good to worry,” Grandmother said. “What will be will be and only Tiana can judge if her words to the bear will be helpful to the hunters. Her destiny was decided long before her birth.” The three rolled up in their caribou hide coverings, as close as they could get to the warm rocks of the fireplace, and slept.

#

Tiana awakened after a dreamless night and knew fresh soft snow had fallen during the night by the hushed sound outside their tent. Grandmother sat nearby, humming to herself and sewing on new garments for summer, weaving in dyed porcupine quills for decoration in the top part of the garment. Part of Tiana’s work lay in gathering moss and fungus to make the dye which she shared with the tribe as dying for porcupine quills and for her art work also.

She arose, greeted her mother and grandmother, and used the clay pot that sat back in the dark side of their tent. No one spoke of the meeting in the kaslim the night before. Later, Tiana sat near her grandmother on the caribou furs to help her sew. She pulled a piece of loose fur up to cover their bare feet.

“Tiana, your stitch is not tight. You will never sew well,” Grandmother scolded with a gentle voice.

“I know, Grandmother. I will try to do better.” Tiana hoped her voice sounded more repentant than she truly was. She didn’t like to sew.

“It could be she is not meant to sew clothing,” Akiia suggested, touching the thick, black hair that lay in a cloud around her daughter’s face. After her bleeding time, she would wear her hair in two braids as did the unmarried women. Akiia patted her own hair, the thick single braid looped around her head in a circle. Grandmother’s hair was nearly too thin to make a braid anymore.

“Even shaman must live on this land,” Grandmother said mildly, her dark eyes sharp and clear. “They must wear clothing and stay warm and eat to exist. Therefore we cannot know what Tiana needs to have knowledge of during her lifetime.”

Grandmother seldom lectured, not like her husband who was full of advice and sulked when he thought his admonishments were ignored. “We live with you as do the other elders in the tribe live with their children, but we still have our own thoughts.”

Tiana enjoyed the old ones living so close within their abode. During the summer months when they packed up their possessions and moved across the land to hunt, the old ones had their own shelter nearby. It was too warm then for so many bodies in one tent.

 

Tiana, Gift of the Moon

“The shaman invites you to talk with him more often as you grow older,” Grandmother commented. “He knows you are capable of learning and some day may become shaman of this tribe when the old one goes.”

Tiana made a face.

“I understand what you are feeling, Daughter,” Grandmother patted her knee. ”It is not easy to be different from other children, but it is nothing you can change. One day you will grow inside your heart as you are growing within your skin and you will know a kinship with the Raven Woman and your destiny. Then you will never feel the pain of separation again. This may be part of the discipline required from you.”

Tiana never spoke about what the shaman taught her, and she was certain her family, though curious, did not wish to be involved in shaman doings. She thought of her grandmother’s wise counsel and vowed to look forward to the visitations rather than dread the time spent with him teaching her.

“Are you hungry?” Akiia asked, already knowing the answer.

“The long nights of cold are nearly past. We will survive until the first green shoots of plants appear under foot,” Grandmother pronounced. “And then surely, the caribou, the musk ox and the wild birds will return.”

Akiia walked to the center of the tent and knelt in front of the fire pit dug in ground. The women had covered the sides and bottom of the pit with the tough, stretched lining from a caribou’s stomach which made a leak-proof shell to fill with water. Akiia lifted hot stones from the fireplace with a scoop made of moose antler, and dropped them carefully into the water.

Tiana watched as the stones sizzled and a great gust of steam shot up, clinging to the ceiling like some live thing before it dissipated into soft drops of liquid on the dirt floor. She thought of the large, skinny rabbit caught in her trap. The boiling stones would cook the rabbit quickly. She could hardly wait. In the past she recalled filled pots and drying racks covered with strips of game, but not this season.

“Ayiie, you may be right, Daughter.” The old woman took Tiana’s face between her withered hands, and smiled a toothless smile before releasing her. “Becoming a shaman is not easy for a woman. Although in my lifetime I’ve heard of medicine women, but it is not the same.”

 

Tiana, Gift of the Moon

“No, I will not be a medicine woman. A shaman is different, I do not know how it differs but it may be that a shaman has a spirit within that not many own.”

The mother and grandmother nodded in agreement.

“Grandmother, please tell me again about the Raven Women and how they chose me to be one of them.” Tiana left the unfinished shirt in her lap, forgotten.

The old woman looked into the upturned face, the anticipation in the velvet-black eyes of the girl. She sighed. Quaanta, her daughter’s husband, had picked out the name Tiana, meaning gift of the moon. It had been a bright, round moon that shone down on the birthing, truly a magical night.

“Nothing is for certain, little one,” Grandmother chided. “First you must be judged worthy. Neither I nor your mother wished to become shaman, nor were we chosen. The magical Raven Belt has been passed down through many lifetimes. When I was yet a girl, I had a dream-and in my dream you, daughter of my daughter, was Raven Woman. Dreams never lie. Yet your father does not wish you to be a shaman,” she reminded.

Tiana and her mother nodded solemnly and looked up at the belt hanging at the entrance to the abode . She stood to touch the belt and when her elders nodded in accord, she took it down and sat in her place, rubbing her fingers over the carved squares. She caressed soft cold ivory which began to warm in her hands. Intricate ivory swivels were also carved, separating the squares with a strong ivory clasp. How had these early ancestors acquired the skills to make this miraculous creation? Many of the squares had been carved by past Raven Women and many were blank, waiting.

“I tried the belt when I was young, and your mother also,” the old woman mused. “But in my dreams I saw it was not fitting. We were not the ones destined to wear it.”

“And the story of the first Raven Women?” Tiana prompted with her usual impatience. Umiak’s carving was of a solitary figure sitting cross-legged on the ice, a huge glacier at her back. Oolik’s carving was more graceful, of three women walking on the ice with a wolf by their side. When it was her turn, what would she carve? She was skilled at painting on rocks and skins. Perhaps that was her gift as a shaman and the legacy she would leave on the belt.

Akiia and her mother smiled over the girl’s head. What could it harm to speak of the Raven Women past? The rabbit would be done to falling apart by the time the males of the family returned. They did not have much to do until then, and they needed to keep their thoughts from the hunters.

 

Tiana, Gift of the Moon

“My grandmother told me and her grandmother told her and so it has been since the beginning of time,” the old woman began. When she closed her eyes, Tiana watched in fascination as blue veins in the thin eyelids seemed to move about under her skin as she spoke.

The boiling rabbit was forgotten, the howling wind and piercing cold all faded and the story unfolded itself from the layers of the grandmother’s memory.

“The first Raven Woman was Tulunixiraq who lives forever deep within a magical glacier. She is the Raven Mother. Then came Umiak and Oolik. Their names sound peculiar and harsh-sounding to our ears, for they were of a different clan. They came from the land of the frozen waters, where people ate only raw flesh and lived in houses shaped like ours; only made of ice. Perhaps it is still thus.”

Grandmother opened her eyes, and Tiana knew the old woman no longer saw the cozy scene with her daughter and granddaughter. It was as if her grandmother’s voice conjured up the image of strange people dressed in clothing so different from anything their own people wore and speaking in a somehow familiar but different tongue.

“Umiak and her daughter, Oolik, journeyed from the land of the ice to find their woodland descendants as the Raven Mother desired them to do. Umiak learned to survive alone, with a child and a grandmother to take care of. ”

“In her lifetime, she destroyed the leader of the terrible clan that had preyed on travelers for as long as the oldest person can remember. They vanished, never to return,” Tiana added, the only time she interrupted. When her grandmother continued the story, Tiana listened, entranced by the sing-song voice of the old woman and knowing sometimes old ones went into trances much like what happened at the shaman’s seances. Everything they spoke was said to come from the spirit world because they were old and so close to returning to it.

“A descendant of Oolik—Nikvik—flew to our people on the backs of two giant Ravens. She brought with her the belt and permitted herself to be captured by our bravest hunter, so that her blood mixed with ours.” The old woman wiped her thin hand across her face in weariness. “A grandmother hopes to live enough seasons more to see Tiana wear the belt.”

The fire crackled and snapped in the silence, while the old woman’s voice faded off to a whisper. No one spoke for a long time, their thoughts continuing to wrap around Oolik, the magical belt and the women of the Raven.

Akiia broke the silence. “Our people knew the legend, that there have been no male children to survive with the Raven Women. It is only the superior hunter, unafraid to father a line of females, who will take a Raven Woman as his mate. Perhaps it is because of this legend that your father despises shaman so and forbids you to become one.”

 

Tiana, Gift of the Moon

As Akiia talked, the worried expression left her face. Tiana knew she remembered back to the days of her courtship, a wondrous story she told to her daughter many times over the years. Quaanta and his band were passing through the forest as Akiia and the other women from her tribe fished in the river. From the time he first saw Akiia, he left his own people, as was proper, and hunted and worked for her family until they decided he had earned her as a mate.

“When will my time come, Mother?” Tiana asked. She never tired of hearing the story, though she knew the answers by now.

“When you make a shelter in the forest for your first bleeding time,” Akiia answered with fond patience. “We ask the shaman to put the marks of beauty on your chin with the charcoal and if it is right, you will make a mind journey. Then the belt of the Raven Woman will be yours to wear. While you are alone in the shelter, thoughts from the spirit world may enter to become a part of your own thoughts. You must be receptive to them. They decide what manner of shaman helper spirit is yours.”

These were the very words the shaman had used not long ago. Tiana wondered if he spoke through her mother and grandmother, who were very wise. Long before this vision, back when she was a child crawling on the ground, she recalled nights when she closed her eyes before sleep and sometimes within a dream, the huge grizzly appeared, always snarling and snapping angrily. It frightened her so that often she stayed awake a long time, postponing sleep. What did it mean? Was that a prophesy of how she would end her life—devoured by a huge bear? She stared into the steam rising from the stew cooking. Normally she would be begging for pieces or a sip of the broth. Everyone said the child’s belly was never full since the time of her birth. Now the delicious odors barely penetrated her thoughts. Something bothered her, clawing for attention.

The hunters did not return that day nor the next. The two women and the girl no longer tried to hide their worry. But no matter how hard she concentrated, Tiana could not bring forth another vision. Long into the night, they listened to the drum beats and chants of the shaman inside his tent. He never stopped to sleep or partake of nourishment, for the sounds continued, without pause.

Tiana’s head pounded as if the drum were inside, her scalp prickled from agitation, and yet she tried to hold it inside so as not to cause more apprehension to cloud the small space. She was helpless to do anything but wait.