~*~

Book 3 of the Falls Chance Ranch Series

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chapter 7



7



Jasper shut the dogs in the barn when they left. Flynn watched him do it, his hands dug in the pockets of his jacket against the night chill. They didn’t carry flashlights. There was enough moon tonight to see by, and the two of them had roamed this ranch by night long enough to know their way. Dale was asleep, Flynn had made very sure of it before he left the house – and with a clear mind, once asleep, Dale usually didn’t stir again – and Paul, having planned this with them, had hijacked Riley half an hour ago, enabling the two of them to slip out unseen.

They didn’t go directly to the woods. Jasper led the way instead across the wet pasture towards the river, and on the river bank Flynn crouched, resting his elbows on his knees, knowing what Jasper would do and shutting his mouth on any comments about the season or the temperature. Neither worried Jasper who had grown up sleeping outside as often as he slept under the rough shelter he’d called home in the woods of Virginia. He stripped silently beside the river, dropping his clothes on the grass, and his skin was silver under the thin moonlight that slid through the clouds. Once naked, he stepped out on the smooth boulders and waded into the river itself, walking deeper until it reached his chest and he stood nearly in the middle, turning to face the oncoming current so it ran directly over him. For a moment he stood, just letting the water run, then cupped his hands before him and seven times lifted the running water to his face and above his head. When he was done, for a moment he slipped down beneath the surface of the water, disappearing completely, then stood up and walked slowly to the bank.

He was as immune to dressing in wet clothes as he was to cold; he simply ran the water off his skin with his hands. Flynn watched him dress, still crouching on the grass. There was little wind tonight; the clouds were moving slowly against a grey and indigo sky and showing glimpses of moon and bright stars beyond, and water vapour was starting to rise from the grass. They walked through an ankle high mist when Jasper finished dressing and led the way from the river towards the woods leading up hill.

Jasper and Dale’s clothes had been plastered in dust when they came home. Paul had said so, showing Flynn Jasper’s shirt which was stiff with it, even after Paul shook it outside. Dale’s face was scratched and cut, and so was Jasper’s, and Jasper had indicated silently and emphatically that he did not intend to explain anything in front of Riley and Dale, only saying something about thick brush in the woods. But when he changed before dinner, Flynn noticed that one of the two pieces of rose quartz that usually sat on the dressing table in his and Dale’s room had gone – one half of the piece that Dale had found in David’s quartz mine near the abandoned stone ruins of the Shoshone village. He found it in Dale’s pocket, and all Dale said was that Jasper had told him to get it and to carry it on him. Jasper hadn’t commented on that either.

They covered ground at the quiet speed Jasper did when he was hunting. On the edge of the woods they paused and Jasper took the lead through the trees, leaving the path and barely making a sound despite the thickness of newly fallen leaves and mulch under foot. Once Flynn saw a fox freeze on the ground ahead of them, it’s eyes flashing in the thin light above the tree canopy, then melt silently away into the undergrowth. Near the brow of the hill there was a distinct break in the trees, a sudden opening from the dense woodland, and there it was; a rough circle perhaps twelve feet across, surrounded by trees as neatly as if someone from above had punched a hole in the woods. The ground was bare earth, there was a definite line where all growing, living things stopped. The grass, the plants, the trees. Just earth, open to the sky, and here and there around the clearing, rocks marked the perimeter, but appeared to just lie where nature had dropped them. There was no sign of manmade order.

Some kind of fungus beneath the ground, perhaps. Some kind of acidity in the soil. Perhaps a tree had once stood here that had died of a disease that took all the nutrient from the soil. Jasper stood on the edge of the clearing, putting out a hand to stop Flynn stepping onto the bare earth, and Flynn followed his indicating finger to some tattered circular item hung from a tree and half hidden in the leaves, twisting gently in the night breeze.

“That’s a medicine shield. They’re a means of protection.”

“Against what?”


“Spirits. Traditionally enemy spirits.” Jasper said briefly.

He wasn’t in the mood for questions. Flynn stood where he was as it was clear Jasper wanted him to go no further, and watched Jasper pull several items from his pocket. He didn’t see what Jasper did, but he saw a match flare in the darkness, and a moment later smelled smoke and tobacco from something smouldering. The smoke rose in a thin, white, wavering column among the trees, and Jasper stepped forward into the circle.

He had a bowl in hand; Flynn saw the smoke rising from inside it. He saw Jasper’s hand flicker through the smoke several times, and watched him turn, facing each quarter direction for a moment while he said something too soft for Flynn to hear. West. North. East. South. Jasper had an unerring internal instinct for north, he never needed the prompt of the sky. He touched the bowl to the earth for a moment, then stood and lifted it above his head. Then he knelt down and Flynn heard his voice, very soft, speaking something slowly and very quietly in a language he only heard Jasper use occasionally. It was the language of his childhood and it invoked the memory of the old man Jasper had loved and called ‘Grandfather’, although Philip who understood such things better than Flynn, had once quietly told him that he suspected from the old man’s beliefs and customs, that he was more likely to have been Jasper’s great grandfather.

Whatever it was he said, he repeated it. Over and over, like a chant. And Flynn watched him make a simple fire on the ground in front of him, adding the contents of the bowl and several short branches of pine, sweet grass, cedar and the sage brush that grew freely around the ranch. When the aromatic smoke was rising, he sat back on his heels and Flynn came quietly to join him, crouching beside him to look at the fire.

“There’s been more than one tribe here.” Jasper said quietly, and Flynn followed his nod to a rock face now lit by the fire. Carved horses.

“The rock has been made a shield in itself. The woodland nations used rocks. Trees. There’s probably more carvings here if we looked. The skin shields are made by the plains nations.”

“What does that mean?”

“Whatever’s here has been here a long time and its significance is recognised by more than one nation.”

“We’re miles from the Shoshone village.”


“One Shoshone village.” Jasper gave him a sideways glance, eyes dark. “If you were grazing horse herds up here, where would you put a settlement so it was in a sheltered place, near water?”

Flynn nodded, seeing his point. “Where the house is. But this is low ground for a sacred place isn’t it? It’s the nearest high spot to the house if you wanted a look out point, but the tops climb much higher a few miles on.”

“It depends what it was for.” Jasper watched the fire for a minute, hands linked together between his knees. “If several nations recognised it, then it may be a burial ground. Or a battle site. Or some kind of marker.”

“There’s no way to tell?”

Jasper didn’t answer.

It was a healing ritual he did; Flynn knew enough to recognise it. Not bodily healing, not for bodily sickness, and in Jasper’s mind this had little to do with the physical world: the smoke was to lift both his prayers and anything in this clearing that needed to be cleansed away. He was always very private about it, but it was what damaged people and places that mattered to Jasper, the marks that events left behind. It was no accident he’d taken Dale with him to swim in the river several times since the incident in the barn with the saw, and from Riley’s wet hair yesterday when he and Jasper came home for dinner, he’d gotten Riley in the water too, not that it ever took much persuasion where Riley was concerned. Flynn very much doubted either Dale or Riley had realised why.

“Dale saw twenty of the shields around the circle.” Jasper commented when the fire began to sink. 

“Twenty seems a whole lot of protection.”

“It is.” Jasper got up, leaving the ashes of the fire smouldering, the smoke still blowing softly through the trees. Flynn got up with him. The woods were quiet. Still. Peaceful. 


A horse whinnied, far away from the direction of the house. Flynn recognised the voice. Mia. He’d heard her a few times at night, calling to a stallion. Probably a stallion somewhere on the range that she’d come from, someone she instinctively remembered and missed. Thankfully Bandit and the mares were too far away for her voice to reach them. Bandit’s manners were good, but the stallion would kick his way through a brick wall, never mind the wood of the stable if he thought he had good reason to. He followed Jasper as Jasper stepped out of the circle, and nearly fell over him as he crouched suddenly, putting a hand down to something Flynn couldn’t see. Flynn put a hand on his back to steady himself, and leaned down to look.

“What?”

Jasper leaned aside to show him. A small plant grew on the very edge of the clearing, close against one of the carved rocks. Small and low, softly spiked like rosemary and a pale green, with a few tiny curled white flowers.

“It’s white sage.” Jasper’s fingers brushed the plant for a moment more before he got up, and his voice was unreadable.



 *




Ever since the unfortunate incident with the chainsaw, Flynn had been taking Dale to shower with him before breakfast, hustling him through getting ready and keeping him in sight, which made obsessing or thinking about anything much too difficult to do. The strange ten minutes in the clearing yesterday seemed very far away now, and Jasper had unequivocally blocked any attempt to talk about it. As soon as they reached the house yesterday, he had taken Dale in to the shower with him for a long time, keeping them under the water spray long after they were clean, and then sent Dale upstairs to get the rose quartz piece with orders to keep it on or near him without fail. And then despite being grounded supposedly not involving work, he had filled their remaining time until dinner with scrubbing the downstairs bathroom, the kitchen floor, sweeping the porch, vacuuming the stairs and washing down all the work surfaces; hard and energetic work that he joined in with alongside Dale, and which left no time for conversation or thinking. Paul had looked surprised but he hadn’t asked questions, and if he got an explanation from Jasper, Dale hadn’t heard it. The rest of the evening had been rigidly ordinary and Flynn had sent him up to bed almost directly after dinner. 

“Were you out wandering around the woods last night?” Riley demanded as Flynn and Dale came into the kitchen. Paul was mid way through preparing breakfast and Riley, from the look of things, was grumpily helping by slicing bread. “You might have told me, I’m not the one who’s supposed to be grounded.”

“We’re quite clear on who’s grounded thank you.” Paul said firmly. “And there’s politer ways to ask.”

“We did and we’ll tell you about it in a minute.” Jasper came in from the porch, leaning against the door frame to heel off his boots.


“Do you need any help?” Dale asked Paul, who shook his head.


“Riley and I have it covered thanks love. There’s some of your shirts ironed in the laundry room, you can take them up and put them away before we eat.”

“You do realise it’s five minutes to seven and we’re running late?” Riley said acidly from the table. Jasper turned to look at him and Paul took Riley by the arm, putting him on his feet with a firm spank across the seat of his jeans.

“You put your nose in that corner and think very carefully, before you get what you’re asking for. Dale, shirts.”

In anyone else it would be bordering on spiteful, but Dale found himself less hurt than recognising Riley’s tone. He’d heard Riley prod at Flynn like that before now. Usually when he was hurt at how Flynn was acting, and was unable to leave him alone. He took the shirts, still thinking, and headed upstairs. He was distracted until he reached the door of his and Flynn’s room, and then he stopped dead in the doorway. And dropped the shirts on the bed, heading back out onto the landing in sheer frustration. Even he was surprised at the volume of his voice.

“All right, who is mucking about with the bloody quilts!”

“I’m mucking about with the bloody quilts.” Paul’s voice said from the kitchen, “Don’t yell at me from upstairs, please.”

Dale jogged down the stairs and swung around the corner into the kitchen, taking no notice of Flynn or Jasper at the table. 

“I made our bed less than fifteen minutes ago! The quilt in our room should be red. Not green. There is a definite colour difference in wavelength of about 180 nanometres unless you happen to be deuteranopic; if so, I shall be happy to label them. If I swap them around will you swap them back again or start hiding the red covers out of the linen cupboard?”

Paul flipped pancakes over on the griddle without looking round. “Not if you ask me not to.”


There were times when Paul’s thought processes were beyond comprehension. 

“....I’m asking you not to.” Dale said with studied calm. “Please. Thank you so very much.”

“You’re most welcome.” Paul said cheerfully.

Dale paused in the doorway, another suspicion striking him. “.........are you moving the plant pots on the porch too?”

“Yes.” Paul said candidly. Dale gave him a look of speechless disbelief.

“Why would you do that?”

“I thought you could use the practice in telling me when I did something you didn’t like, and asking me to stop it.”

“As we all know he doesn’t tell us anything if he can help it.” Riley said to the corner. Dale transferred his look of irritation from Paul to the back of Riley’s head.

“I’m perfectly capable of-”


“Yes, everything is fine Ri,” Riley said, spinning around to face him, “It’s just a little bit of stress, it’s just the end of the world, I can handle it. No I’m not counting frickin’ fence posts, it’ll all be over in a day or two, nothing to worry about! And you didn’t just tell me that!”

Boom.

Dale had seen Riley hit detonation point before – although never before at him – and while understanding and no little apprehension were vying for his attention, pure exasperation took over and he found himself answering just as loudly.

“I’ve repeatedly apologised for that and it has nothing to do with putting things in the wrong place for some kind of Machiavellian-”

“Machiavellian?” Riley demanded. “Do you speak English at all? ‘Wrong place’ would be putting the quilt in the casserole! You’re freaking out about a different coloured quilt?”

“Riley,” Paul began, and Dale interrupted him, enunciating clearly,

“Machiavellian. A legal term, as of or pertaining to Niccolo Machiavelli, which has been a part of the recognised English language since  1626.  There is nothing whatever wrong with having preferences about where things are and what colours they are, perceptions of rigidity are subjective and within bounds of normal variation. So if it’s quite all right with you I'll replace the quilts in the correct places.”

“You forgot to mention if it was a noun or a verb!” Riley shouted after him. “Or if you’d like any help removing that fence post A.N.Z. jammed up your ass!”

Hey.” Flynn said sharply. “Enough. Dale, come back here. Riley, turn back to that corner.”

“Adjective. In this sense. And no, thank you; I’m entitled to some bloody fun.” Dale said slamming the kitchen door shut behind him, hard enough to shake the house.

There was a moment of shocked silence. Then Dale opened the door again and put it back exactly where it had been, clearing his throat and aware he was flushing bright red.

“........ I’m sorry about that.”

Riley collapsed against the table with laughter.

“We do not slam doors around here.” Flynn said grimly, pointing at Dale’s chair. “Sit down. Riley-”

“He didn’t slam it.” Riley choked out, “Or not properly. Sort of 6 out of 10 for effort.”

That was it. Dale’s self control cracked, a snort of laughter broke out, and Riley caught his eye across the table, face alight with all his usual warmth.

“You’re entitled to some fun?”

Futue te et ipsum caballum.” Dale told him, grinning, and Paul clicked his fingers, pointing at the table.

“I don’t even want to know what that means. Sit down. Now. Riley, the corner’s over there.”




How did you explain about medicine shields and white light and little green pixies up in the woods?

Well apparently you just said it, calmly, between mouthfuls of breakfast, and the other three instead of calling for the men in white coats, sat and listened with interest.

Jasper is spooky, we know that, Riley had said months ago, and apparently they meant it.

“So you went and burned stuff up there last night?” Riley demanded when Jasper reached the conclusion of Things That Go Whoosh in the Woods.

“It’s a cleansing thing.” Paul said to Dale. “The smoke is supposed to lift away anything wrong about the area from what I understand, and different woods or herbs are used depending on the need.”

“So what is it?” Riley asked. “A burial ground? A battle site?”

“It’s got some kind of strong spiritual significance, I don’t know what.” Jasper put his plate aside. “There’s somewhere I’d like to go today, and I’d like to take Dale with me.”



*



They drove for several hours.

Dale’s knowledge of the local geography was vague, he’d spent very little time off the ranch, but he recognised some of the roads from the route Jake had taken in late summer when he and Tom took Dale and Riley with them to climb Gannett Peak, and he recognised the Wind River range, the familiar mountains seen in the distance from the ranch, growing steadily closer as they drove. In the meantime, Jasper said nothing, and Dale, used to spending hours fishing with Jasper and familiar with his silences which were comfortable ones, said nothing either. There didn’t seem to be any need. 

“This is the Warm Valley.” Jasper said at last, as they began to see the foothills of the Wind River range. “The beginning of the Wind River Indian Reservation. It’s one of the largest; three and  half thousand square miles. We’re going to Fort Washakie. That’s the reservation headquarters.”

Aha. Touched that Jasper would involve him in whatever it was he was doing, and sensing from his tone just how private this was, Dale chose his words carefully.

“What’s there?”

“Someone I’m hoping we can meet.” Jasper said cryptically, and then glanced across at Dale and Dale saw his mouth relax a little. “This reservation is shared by two nations. The Arapahoe and the Shoshone.”

And light dawned. Dale looked at Jasper, stunned at the thought.


“The Shoshone who had territory on the ranch?”

Jasper didn’t answer directly and again Dale picked up the cue from him; something with no anger in it, just firm distraction.

No, don’t talk about what happened in the clearing, don’t think about it.

“Have you heard of the code talkers?”

“The Navajo.” Dale searched for the memory in amongst his A level history lessons at school. “.......Navajo soldiers worked for the American government in the second world war, transmitting messages in codes based on their language.”

“Cherokee, Choctaw and Comanche soldiers also worked as code talkers during the war.” Jasper took a turn off alongside a river. “It wasn’t just based on the language, it was also based on the code talkers having trained memories. There’s a strong oral history tradition in all the nations, children’s memories are trained from when they’re very young. When I was a child my grandfather would tell me a story at night, and the next night I would tell it back to him, not just the details but all of the intonation, the gestures, and if it wasn’t just right, he’d tell it to me over again and the next night I’d repeat it back, until it was perfect and we went onto a different story. To me it was just a game we played in the evenings, I loved the stories and the story telling, but it’s memory training just the way my grandfather’s memory was trained when he was a child. The same handing down of what he remembered.”

He was quiet for a moment and Dale watched his face, the strong bones and dark eyes, wondering what he was thinking, aware of his brown hands loose on the steering wheel and his cheek still scratched from yesterday in the clearing.

“In each nation,” Jasper said at last, “there are a few people whose memories are exceptional, who learn to take that training to a far higher level. They don’t just remember the stories, or the basics, they know by memory all of the oral history, spoken by rote, that goes back centuries. I met one, years ago, before I came here.”

“Did you ever live on a reservation?” Dale asked it with caution, wondering if it was too personal to ask, but Jasper nodded slowly.


“Yes. For a while, after my grandfather died. Not this one.”



The small town they drove into was surrounded by open grassland and trees around the river. On some of the streets stood buildings in a military style left over from previous centuries that showed where the ‘Fort’ name originated from, and Jasper parked near one of the old buildings with a ‘Shoshone Tribal Cultural Centre’ sign, turning off the engine.

“Stay here. This won’t be what we’re looking for.”

He was gone for a while. Dale sat and watched the street around him. There were obviously tourists here, easily spotted in amongst the town residents with their cameras and back packs. When Jasper came back, it was with a piece of paper he folded and pocketed, and he took the car up a side street and out into the outskirts of the small town well away from the tourists, until in the distance Dale could see the outlines of a cemetery, with stones rising from the grass. Jasper parked outside a small bungalow, turned off the engine and patted Dale’s knee.


“The curator at the centre rang the elder here, who said he would be prepared to talk to us.”

“And he’s an oral historian?”


“He may be. He knows of the oral history of the Eastern Shoshone.”

Dale got out, somewhat hesitantly, looking at the well kept path up to the house.

“Is there anything I should know about etiquette?”

He’d been well prepared over the years for Japanese, Thai, European and a variety of other cultural customs when meeting clients. Jasper locked the truck, putting a hand on his arm to guide him forward.

“If you’re offered food, accept it. Listen attentively and don’t interrupt, and keep in mind that the elders are very respected people. Just use your usual good manners. We’re approaching as strangers and we’re asking essentially for a gift of information.”

Dale nodded, gathering himself. He’d met with any number of important people over the years, clients and guests and associates of clients; he was already reaching for the calm and focused courtesy and the autopilot he used in all important social functions when Jasper put both hands on his shoulders, turning Dale to face him.

“Dale. I’m going to ask you to be very honest about what you’ve seen and felt up in the clearing on Mustang Hill, and what you think it may mean. This isn’t the time to wonder if it sounds stupid or what people may think of you; no one here is going to call into question whether or not they believe you. If we’re honest, if we’re open, we may learn. Do you understand that?”

That was even scarier, but Jasper’s eyes were gentle, there was a lot of encouragement in his face. This was something he was asking for them to do together and Dale nodded instinctively, in part out of desire to help him and in equal part if he was honest, out of growing fascination.

“I want you to think again about white light.” Jasper said seriously. “Over you. Under you. All around you. Get the image strongly in mind.”

“What if I can’t hold the image?” Dale asked him. Jasper shook his head.


“It won’t matter. Once you’ve done it, it stays done. Ok?”

White light. Dale nodded, and Jasper quietly dropped a kiss on his forehead and let him go, leading the way up the path.

The screen door was opened before they reached it, and Dale didn’t understand the brief words of greeting that passed between Jasper and the Shoshone man in the doorway. He was perhaps Paul’s age, hair greying but not much longer than Jasper’s, and wearing a denim shirt and jeans. It was a moment before he and Jasper shook hands, more gently than Dale was used to seeing between men in a business culture, and he followed Jasper’s example when Jasper stepped aside to introduce him, offering his hand which was taken in the same, gentle grasp. The man had rather watchful eyes but smiled, switching to English.

“I’m Joseph Williams.”

“This is Dale Aden.” Jasper introduced him. “My partner.”

“Come in.” The man led them into a living room, indicating the couches, and Dale took a seat beside Jasper. The man sat down in the only arm chair, leaning forward with his arms on his knees.


“I understand you’re looking for oral histories of Chance River, but you are not researchers or historians.”

“This isn’t casual curiosity,” Jasper said frankly, “and we appreciate your taking the time to see us. We come from Chance River, a ranch just beside it. I’ve known for some years of an abandoned Shoshone village some miles from us within the ranch borders, I had some contact with the reservation elders here some years when we were approached by archaeologists who wanted to dig the site.”

The man nodded quietly, listening.


“Dale recently discovered another site on our land that we believe to be sacred.” Jasper went on. “A clearing in a wood on a hill. Nothing grows there and hasn’t as long as the family have known the land, which is over sixty years now. There are carvings of horses on rocks – medicine shields – and we’ve found remains of shields in the trees around the clearing. We’ve also both witnessed some unusual things there. Sounds, wind, light.”

“An attack.” the man said without surprise. Dale looked at him, startled, but Jasper bent his head in agreement.


“With some unusual parts to it. White sage grows under one of the carved rocks.”

There was a moment’s silence, and Dale, who had been using information as levers in negotiations for years, felt the dynamic between Joseph and Jasper shift from reserved politeness to something far more substantial. Then the man said thoughtfully,

“Would you excuse me for a moment?”


He was gone for a while. Jasper caught Dale’s eye and gave him a brief, reassuring smile, but Dale was long used to assessing atmosphere during negotiations and there was no sense of tension or unwelcome here. Then the man returned and this time, following him, in a checked shirt, jeans, and with white hair plaited almost to his waist, was a tall, slightly stooped and much older man who walked on his arm, and whose face was deeply lined and far more weather tanned than Joseph’s. He was magnificent. Even in jeans, the man radiated presence, and there was a warmth in his very bright blue eyes that reached out and captivated Dale. Jasper stood up and Dale quickly followed, and the man paused to look at both of them. Then he put out a hand to take Jasper’s with the same gentle grip.

“Jasper Blackwater of the Tsalagi.”

“Yes sir.”


“At least nominally.” The man’s voice was compassionate. “And Dale Aden, who is not.”

The man transferred his grasp to Dale’s hand, taking it rather than shaking it, and Dale, although wary about how respectful it was to look such a venerable man straight in the eyes, couldn’t resist it. The man’s entire, weathered and crinkled face lit up when he smiled, and there was nothing old or fragile about the gentle grasp of that hand. It engulfed and communicated, there was a deep warmth within it.

“Please sit down.”

“Thank you.” Jasper touched Dale’s arm and they both sat when the older man settled stiffly into the armchair.

“This is my father.” Joseph explained, taking a seat on a leather stool by the fireplace beside the older man. “He’s better able to deal with your questions than I am.”

So this was the historian. The old man caught Dale looking at him again and Dale saw his eyes twinkle. 

“I hear that you have white sage growing in Wyoming.”

Jasper took something from his breast pocket and the old man took it, turning it in his fingers. Then he looked straight at Dale.

“So tell me. What exactly did you see on your hill by the river?”

“Twenty brightly coloured shields. With animal emblems, feathers, fur, but mostly horse pictures on them.” Dale said reflexively. There was something like Flynn in the way the man spoke, his voice was light but had the same knack of getting an instant and very respectful response. “They were in the trees all around the clearing.”

“They’re hanging there now?”


“Well we found the remains of one.” Dale hesitated to say it. “I saw the twenty during- whatever happened in the clearing. When it stopped, all I could see was that one remnant and it’s obviously very aged. I couldn’t say how aged, I don’t have the knowledge of how animal hide weathers under those particular conditions.”

The man nodded slowly. “And what else?”


“I’ve experienced – something – up there twice now.” Dale glanced at Jasper, taking reassurance from his brief look of agreement. “Both times a wind came up, gently at first and then blasting, blowing leaves ahead of it, to the point it was hard to stand up in. On the second occasion the ground shook. It felt and sounded like an earthquake or a tornado, and I smelled smoke.”

“And you felt what?” the old man asked calmly.

“I never fully understood the definition of ‘dread’ before.” Dale admitted. “Fear. The first time it was so strong I ended up running away from the clearing and I vomited.”

He caught Jasper’s eye as he spoke and Jasper’s eyebrow quirked.


“And?” the old man prompted him. Dale looked away from Jasper, pulling himself together.

“And on both occasions I heard a sound like hooves on the ground. On the first occasion when I heard it, I felt the heat of something go by.”

“What was it?”

It was so gently put that Dale answered almost without thinking. “It was a horse.”

The old man inclined his head again. “And the pictures on the rock?”

“They’re also horses.” Jasper confirmed.

“And was there anything more?”

Jasper answered more quietly and Dale had a feeling that he spoke in code, that something passed between him and the old man.

“We both saw that something circled us during the second attack. Dark, changing shape. I’ve seen something of that kind perhaps only once before in my life, but that was enough to recognise what it was.”


There was a long moment’s silence. Then the old man sat back, resting his arms on the arms of the chair.

“This may take a while.”


*


In fact it took several hours, although no one in the room noticed. Dale found himself studying what happened with the intense fascination of a researcher, lost in awe as the man in front of him scanned back – not through memory of specific events but through mighty chunks of speeches that he recited in entirety in his own language. He and his son conferred about possible connected events, possible date periods, and the associated starting point of that particular chunk, which was then recited in order to scan it for references. The way the man’s memory recorded the information was like a scroll – from a particular starting point he could just unroll the speech. Jasper appeared to understand some of it. To Dale, who knew enough of enough languages to pick up fragments of understanding of pace and vowels and phonemes, it was marvellous sound – an amazing flow from an amazing man with a skill of that had to be heard to be believed.

It still awed him to discover that after years in an environment considered equipped with the most advanced information technology available, among people who considered that they knew everything worthwhile that there was to know anywhere in the world – just how very narrow and puerile it all was, when unknown to the world, unsung and uninterested in what men in suits did in tower blocks, there were men like this one, with minds like this one, opening doors on realms Dale didn’t even know he didn’t know. In this living room, like on the ranch, the world seemed wonderfully infinite.

Joseph brought drinks and a pen and paper and for hours they ran through speech after speech, apparently going further and further back in time, until sometime in the mid afternoon there were several references to Chance River, and then suddenly Joseph began to translate out loud as his father spoke, not word for word but saying and writing down the gist. 

“The Shoshone and the Blackfoot people from the plains fought each other for hunting territory in later times, as the Blackfoot were a nomadic hunting tribe. But in the early times the Shoshone had horses – they herded and tamed the wild Mustangs on their land and were known as the horse people, while the Blackfoot went on foot and with dog sleds. When the Blackfoot came to the Shoshone territory and saw the horses they began raiding expeditions to capture horses for themselves, sometimes travelling many miles in a night. On the hill by the Chance River was a great battle, but it was not between Shoshone and Blackfoot men. The Blackfoot watched and waited until the able men of the village were away hunting, and meant to attack the village and cause a diversion while it was undefended, while others of their men went through the woods like shadows to steal away the horse herd. But the herd was led by a great white stallion, who heard the men entering his territory and raised the alarm. He turned his herd,  stampeding them through the woods. They ran down the Blackfoot men hidden there, and turned them away from the village with no Shoshone man, woman or child harmed. The stallion himself fought alone on the hill and when the last living Blackfoot had fled, in amongst the dead, the Shoshone found the stallion dying of his wounds. He was buried on the ground where he died, and was named guardian by the Shoshone and by the Blackfoot, who vowed that they had fought against an animal spirit in physical form – this part is a little harder to translate.” Joseph broke off and gave Dale an apologetic smile. “Essentially the stallion was recognised as a warrior spirit by both nations. To both, the hill had been the site of a deeply spiritual event, and it became sacred ground, invested by them with respect and with many prayers. The spirit became guardian to both the living in the village and the spirits of the Blackfoot who died in battle on the hill. There’s an- immense – amount of energy invested in that. The spirit is almost a link between the physical and the spiritual.”

The old man had stopped speaking.

There was a long moment of silence, then he looked again at Dale.

“What else did you see on the hill when you felt the wind and heard the horse go by?”

“Jasper told me to think of white light all around me.” Dale said slowly. “I could..”

“Tell it to me as you saw it.” The old man encouraged quietly when Dale hesitated. “Trust in what you know.”

“I was thinking of white light and perhaps that was all it was, but it was like seeing white light more than imagining it. Like being inside a tornado of dust and white light.” Dale paused, thinking about it. “It appeared to be streaked with violet – the true shade of violet, the colour from the light spectrum. And gold. And when we left the clearing there was an eagle overhead. I’ve never seen one over the ranch valley before.”

“They nest some miles north in the hills.” Jasper said quietly. “Mustang Hill is a long way from their territory.”


“Another living symbol of the link between the physical and the spiritual.” The old man smiled, his face crinkling even further. “The eagle travels from the ground to the sky, taking messages from the earth to the heavens, and is also sacred to us. You’ve seen other things too, Dale Aden. And unlike your friend here, you’re not one of our blood.”

“Well not to my knowledge, sir.” Dale said wryly and the man laughed.


“We’ll agree not. Understand this from an old man. A sacred place holds all kinds of energies. In some ways it is alive. A breathing place, that can speak to you and act on you as another living soul can. Anyone who comes to it can affect it by what they bring, they can even do it harm if they don’t come to it ready and prepared. It can be injured like a soul can be injured, and it can defend itself.”

“I blame myself sir,” Dale said honestly and humbly, “I’m the one in the household who is chaotic – I’ve caused trouble in the last few weeks and I’ve blundered into the clearing full of it without any idea of what I was doing.”

“What trouble?” the man said quite normally. Dale swallowed.


“Dishonesty. To myself and to the others. Anger, frustration, wanting to know and not being able to – being afraid of failing. Being afraid of what happens when I can’t control what I’m feeling.”

The old man nodded slowly.


“It befalls us all. The secret is to learn to ground yourself. In our beliefs, that stability, that peace, is the essence of what a man keeps in himself before he does anything else. If you are solidly grounded then like a deeply rooted tree, you have the strength to withstand emotion and to do what you need to do. You can withstand things that are negative, you can understand that the little things come and go and flow past but make no difference to the big things, the things that are important. Learn that grounding first. Learn that stability. Be the tree."


*



Learn to ground yourself.

That was almost exactly how Flynn made him feel with what he called grounding. Shut out the distractions of everyday activities and reduce those distracting activities down to the minimum. Be calm. Focus on what you’re thinking. What’s right about it, what’s wrong about it, what’s the truth within it. And there was a physical element to it too that they had been teaching him ever since he came here. A calm, properly fed, properly rested, exercised body that was undistracted. Receptive, and clear about what its senses perceived. It obtained the same result. It enabled concentration. Reflection. Reaffirmed what was important.

“From the events in and around that section that we are able to match dates to,” Joseph had told them, “The battle on the hill took place sometime between 1705 and 1710. I’m afraid we can’t be more precise than that.”

Dale glanced at Jasper as they passed the green sign indicating that they were leaving the reservation territory.

“When he said you were nominally of the – Tsalagi? What did he mean?”

“The Tsalagi are the Cherokee. He was repeating what I said to his son.” There wasn’t a lot of expression in Jasper’s voice. “I have Cherokee blood.”

As opposed to what? Jasper had always seemed to know a good deal about the Shoshone nation’s history and traditions as it had affected their land in the past, as if his understanding was very broad. Dale tried not to watch him too obviously, aware of the change in his voice. There had been something about the way Jasper had talked to him about coming to the reservation, something very reluctant as though he was not comfortable here.

They drove in silence for a moment, then Jasper took his hand off the steering wheel to cover Dale’s.

“You can ask what you want, Dale. It’s all right, whatever you want to ask I want to tell you.”

Somehow that permission made it even harder to say anything clumsily and risk hurting him. Dale hesitated, choosing his words carefully.


“You seem – wary? Of being here.”

“It’s nothing related to this place.” Jasper said gently. “Nothing personal.”


“But to do with reservations.” Dale reflected again on what Jasper had told him as they drove here earlier today. “You said you stayed on a reservation for a while.”

“A Cherokee reservation, when I was much younger.” Jasper turned off onto a larger highway, one of the long Wyoming highways Dale often saw out here with no other vehicle in sight. He didn’t say anything for a while, then cleared his throat.


“My Grandfather was the grandson of a family who escaped when the Cherokee were being driven out of Virginia. The few who escaped went into hiding. They lived in constant danger of being rounded up if they were caught, and many of them changed their names, hid their customs or stopped them altogether, and even stopped teaching their children the Cherokee language or ways to protect them. My grandfather did what his family had always done and lived so far up in the mountain woods, in such isolation, that hardly anyone in his lifetime knew he was there. Because the family isolated themselves so completely, he lived with the same beliefs and traditions he’d learned as a child from his father and grandfather, more or less unchanged. Some of the knowledge was garbled, there were things I think got lost down the generations like Chinese whispers, because there was no one but the immediate family to remember or learn from. I remember him singing me songs he didn’t know all the words to, or why they were important.”

A very elderly man and a young child alone together deep in the woods. Jasper had never made mention of anyone else but his grandfather, and Dale wondered how a child came to be alone in the care of a man living a secret life in hiding. Growing up with the same hunted fear the old man had known all his life, inherited from his parents and grandparents. Never be seen. Never let anyone know who you are.

“You went looking for his relatives?”

“When he died, yes.” Jasper said lightly. “It took me a year or more to work my way there, but I’d been listening to stories all my life of what my family remembered of life before they went into hiding. Being part of a tribe, the proper traditions, the proper customs. I suppose the view I inherited was quite idealised. I don’t know if you know of the history of the reservations, but the reality was a shock. The generations there had been through some terrible times. They’d suffered from poverty, unemployment. Many of the elders had been forced through government boarding schools aimed at re educating. The streets and houses and motorbikes weren’t what I’d expected, and I’d been raised in ways that I suppose were – extremely old fashioned even by the elders’ childhood experiences, and were distorted by six generations of one family living alone. I was also born outside the reservation, with a dubious claim of a link over a century and a half ago.”

He said nothing more but Dale understood. As foreign on the reservation as he had been off it. ‘Nominally’ Cherokee.

“When I came to the ranch, Philip gave me the run of the land and the freedom to live anywhere and any way I wanted on it.” Jasper said more quietly. “Which was closest to the way I’d been raised than I could live anywhere else. I could hunt as I wanted. Flynn quite liked that bit too. But my knowledge is very general, and limited, and relatively unaffiliated.”

“But you understood exactly what was going on in the clearing.”

Jasper shook his head.

“I don’t know. I suspect, I have some idea and I’ve seen something like that perhaps once before. When I was a child we moved from place to place depending on season, and there was a place near us once where I saw something like that, and my grandfather did a healing ritual. It was a site where teenagers had been playing in the summer and called up something without realising what they did or what they left when they ran away. What Flynn said to you was right; it doesn’t matter what you call it. When he and I were reading our way through Philip’s library we realised, what he knew and what I knew were usually the same thing just called by a different name by different cultures. Whether you call it cognitive behavioural therapy or not looking evil in the eye so it can’t recognise you, or you don’t invite a vampire to enter a building, the knowledge is in all the races that you don’t give entry to a spirit that means harm. You don’t think about it, you don’t dwell on it, and you root yourself in everyday things. Cooking, washing, cleaning, caring for your home, those are the most basic instinctive grounding things you can do, they root you to yourself.”

“You really think there’s something there that’s able to do harm?”

Dale had heard Jasper and the old man talk  - in English, but about things that were beyond Dale’s experience, and he recognised again that they were leaving as much unsaid as possible while they communicated. At times they had paused while they compared a Cherokee phrase to a Shoshone phrase until they established a compatible meaning, but it had been to do with something Jasper had done in the clearing last night. It was likely that what he’d heard Jasper repeat yesterday in the clearing were prayers, and that again made sense, that was natural in all cultures. Dale had memories of a matron in charge of his house at public school who had been given to repeating Hail Marys under her breath at times of stress or alarm. 

Jasper didn’t answer at first and it was a long while before he spoke.

“The black dog – you saw it?”

“I couldn’t see a definitive shape, but I saw it moving and growing.”

“That is a shape of something harmful. And you felt the fear it raised in you, that is how spirits do harm – by trying to make you afraid, they can only come at you through your fear. You recognise that concept too?”


Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...

Across a wide range of beliefs and cultures, yes.  

“Whatever it is,” Jasper said quietly, “it now has to be left alone. I don’t want you or Riley to go near that clearing. If you’d told me all of what you experienced up there the first time, I would have been better prepared and I wouldn’t have let us both walk in there and open ourselves up to it. That wasn’t safe, and it could have been avoided.”

Dale winced. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t proud of being so scared I threw up. I thought I imagined it, or it was just a part of being stressed out about the project, I didn’t want to – exaggerate, I suppose.”

“Yes, I think you presented it in a successfully understated way.” Jasper agreed. “And yes, I am going to spank you.”

There seriously ought to be laws about saying shocking things like that straight out.

“But the white sage,” Jasper paused. “That is something sacred. It doesn’t grow in this state, it shouldn’t grow in a woodland at all. And you saw white light shot with violet and gold. Those are not colours indicating something harmful.”

“No one should pay any attention whatever to what I see,” Dale protested. “It’s hardly reliable! Besides, the medicine shield – that’s symbolic isn’t it?”


“It’s protective.” Jasper agreed.

“And like the carving on the rock it’s all connected to the Mustang stallion being buried there, it’s protecting the sacred space he’s in, isn’t it?”

“What we felt may have been defensive, yes.” Jasper said almost unwillingly. “Or it may be that something else at some time has become stuck in that clearing, and can’t get past the protections there. Like a fly in a web, that’s in part what that kind of place is for. Whatever it is may have gone. I would hope what I did up there would help to – clean – the place of any energies that shouldn’t be there. But it’s important now that it’s left alone. There are things that shouldn’t be meddled with by those that don’t know what they’re doing, and we don’t know nearly enough.”


***


Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2009


3 comments:

Snarks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Snarks said...

Maybe Riley doesn't want to know what "Futue te et ipsum caballum." means, but the translation I came up with made no sense in any language. :D
My next nearest guess was some variation of "(Bleep) you and the horse you rode in on."
Can you tell me if I was even close? lol
Thanks!
And thanks again for such great stories. I learn so much from them (references to dances and music I never heard of before) among other things.

Ranger said...

You're absolutely right! "(Bleep) you and the horse you rode in on".

It's great you're enjoying them! We hope you keep on enjoying :)

~*~

It's funny how life turns out

The odds of faith in the face of doubt

Camera one closes in

The soundtrack starts

The scene begins.

You're playing you now.

~Josh Jopling Group

~*~