Wednesday, October 6, 2010

His Name was Young Bear

Near the headwaters of the Apalachi River
May, 1541

He was eight years old, and his name was Young Bear, though that was not remembered later; and in any case it was only a childhood nickname, not his real name. But because he died of the sickness just the very next moon, he never got an adult name; so Young Bear is what I will call him.

He was gathering blackberries on the hillside when he heard thunder echoing over the hills. No, he thought, it couldn't have been thunder; the sky was wide open and cloudless, and anyway it was a little too short and sharp. It seemed to have come from down in the valley, by the stream.

He was too old to run home screaming, and too young to resist the urge to clamber down and investigate.

And so the Spaniard's next bullet caught his shoulder, and then he screamed and ran -- and tripped, and landed splashing in the water, and scrambled to his feet, and was caught.

A large man with a heavy black beard, dressed in leather and cloth and carrying a long oddly-shaped stick, pushed him to the ground and rolled him on his back and knelt on him. His skin was oddly pale, and his nose was long and thin. He said something Young Bear didn't understand.

"What?" said Young Bear.

The man turned his head and called out, and after a moment another man appeared, this one looking much less strange -- dressed all in leather, his face smeared with hunter's paint. He also had one of the odd sticks, though.

"We will not hurt you," said the man, and though he spoke the trade language, his words were odd and broken, like a child who hadn't learned to talk properly. "Tell us who you are."

"I am Young Bear," said Young Bear. "Who are you?"

"You live near here?" asked the man. "Who are your tribe? Your family?"

"We are the Principal People, the Tsalagi," said Young Bear. "Who are you? You should let me go, or my family --"

The man tried to pronounce the word. "Challoki," he said.

The man leaning on Young Bear spoke in Spanish. "Qué dijo? What did he say?"

The other man said, "He says he is of the Challoki tribe."

"What is that word? Cherokee? You have spoken of them before."

"Sí, conquistador. They are a very big tribe, very powerful."

"Excellent. If anyone here knows where the Seven Cities are, their chief will. Help me take this pequeño back to Governor Coronado."

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