When War Comes, A Short Story

IMG_0921         When War Comes

He was my older brother by spirit, not by blood.  He could look through the eyes of the crow or the hawk and see you even when he wasn’t present.  He had what the elders called far vision.  He had the ears of a deer and the wings of a duck.  He could disappear at will.

I adored him.

He told me, “Stop being a puppy, young Night Bird.”

He often came decorated with paint in the colors of a warrior.  He pointed with a finger and spoke with his hands.  He would grab my tongue and give a shake of his head if I spoke too loud near the water where we fished.  He gave me feathers for lessons and beads rubbed raw by the swirling currents of the river.  He gifted me the paw of a weasel when I showed him a nest of pheasant eggs.

I looked up to receive his praise.

He told me, “Don’t put your eggs in another man’s basket.”

He helped me find an ash to carve a bow.  He taught me the way of sticks and how they bend just right when they plead to be an arrow.  He showed me rituals on how to ask the feather where it goes and how to honor flint when it is broken.  I was coached on how to say the words to make an arrow fly true to its kill.

I found truth in what he said.

He told me, “Truth is worthless to the dead.”

He tested me like the leather I used to string my bow.  He tested my patience and my will.  He approved or disapproved.  It all depended on the direction of the wind.  I could tell by the the lift of his chin when he knew that I knew.

I smiled at his knowledge.

He told me, “A lesson learned is a lesson you forgot.”

We practiced until I bled and my blood became a vessel that poured my spirit into the bow, until my hands were indistinguishable from the rose of the wood.  I shot arrow after arrow, day upon day two years in a row.  I could stand on my head or I could sit, I could run or I could crawl, leap or flip.  It didn’t matter to my arrows, they had learned to arrive where I had meant them to go.  They were I and I was them and in an instant I could snatch an arrow out of flight and whisk it back from where it came.

I was cocky with my aim.

He told me, “The pheasant that crows too soon and too loud gets eaten.”

He took me to the mountains and taught me how to hunt like the big cats and climb like the goats.  I was shown the camouflage of painted faces and the different spirits they conjure for their host.  He spoke the words behind the smoke and the rhythms of the tom-toms.  We danced the dances, chanted our chants and in the Spring I came to be a man in the arms of Silver Birch.

I went to her in the night.

He told me, “Love is a warrior’s strength and his weakness combined.”

We sat in silence amidst the bustle of the many young boys as they searched to retrieve our arrows.  They plucked them from the grass where we practiced and brought them back to our quivers by name.  We traded for their efforts with feathers and beads or candy for the ones that shook their heads.  One That Grows Fat In the Middle is my little brother by blood.  My Little Brother by spirit is Cloud In The Eye.  He too likes candy above feathers and often cries to my dismay.  I do not recall myself in his childish manners.  He seems to lack the will in search of his honor.

Older Brother clicks his teeth.  He points and gestures with his chin, “Some boys are men, some boys are squaws.  It’s good to know which,” he said, “when war comes.”

Richard Rensberry, Author at QuickTurtle Books™

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