An apsaalookes tale, p.1
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       An Apsaalooke's Tale, p.1

           Bryson Strupp
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An Apsaalooke's Tale


  An Apsaalooke’s tale

  By Bryson Strupp

  Copyright 2014 Bryson Strupp

  I was born thousands of years ago. The water that rushes through my veins turns red and vibrant as the life of my ancestors. My earthen body seems to rise like a great tree in the forest of men. My hair, tied in a roach, gives me the look of a proud bird soaring and searching the skies, dancing on the silky air.

  For ages, I have roamed the earth. I have become the mightiest of hunters, the bravest of warriors, and the greatest of the heroes. My arrow can penetrate the heart of the darkest bear, the bear that dared tell Old Man Coyote that he had created himself. As for me, I was created by the great Coyote. It was he who gave me a companion for my enjoyment. It was he who gave me fire to keep me warm. It was he who gave me weapons and taught me how to hunt. And it was he who gave me a tepee to shelter me from the storm’s fury.

  But those many years ago, his brother, the wily Young Coyote, convinced him that something was missing. He convinced him to change our languages so that I could no longer talk to my brother. His fire grew cold towards me as our understanding ceased. One day, long ago, he disappeared, taking his family far away with him. A little while later we saw each other while out hunting. Far off in the distance, I can still see his hand move across his throat. We named him and his people the Cutthroats, or Lakota. We no longer understood them or their ways.

  It wasn’t much longer before famine struck the land, the beasts disappeared. We could barely survive with what we had, and the Lakota came seeking our aid, but we couldn’t help them. Unable to obtain help through peace, the Lakota decided to take what we had by force. They attacked us; they stole what little dried meat we had left. They took our second mothers as they took our buffalo skins from our tepees.

  Then the bitter winter came. It took what little we had left. Many spirits returned to their ancestors before the winter released us from its icy talons. The Lakota was no longer my brother, he was my enemy.

  And I hated him.

  Hate led to war, war led to blood, blood led to honor. We fought with the Lakota until we washed the plains with our blood. Many brave warriors rose and fell as we fought for our honor, for our families, for our lives, and for our hate. Of course, we fought with other tribes as well. The Great Coyote had given us war as a chance to prove ourselves, but we remembered the treachery of the Cutthroats the most. They were the bitter enemy, and they fought well. Honored was the man who received a wound while fighting the Lakota, and revered was the family whose father perished fighting the Lakota.

  In our hate was respect, in our respect a brother, in our brother compassion, and a story from my youth.

  II

  Even in my old age I still see the walls of that old cavern. Some of my best memories are from that cavern, and also one of my most hated. In my dreams, I still feel the coarse cold stone on my hand. It was an uncanny feeling touching the stone. It pulled at my spirit leaving me feeling like a hollowed out tree stump. It was as though it wanted me to remain in that cave, to suck me up against the wall in profile, to join the great hunt as it played out, forever unchanging. And lose my memory as mine became etched and intertwined with those who came before.

  This cave was a relic of my people. It was as sacred as it was old. For centuries my people had come there to celebrate the Old Coyote and the plenty he provided for us. It seemed whenever we went to that cave we had no need of anything. The herds of buffalo on the plains below the cavern seemed to make the whole of the earth shake. We lived as the Great Coyote had decreed. We took no more than was necessary from them, and we lived in harmony and in balance. The buffalo was our brother, and once we took its skins for our tepees it became also our mother. The wild turnip root was our sister, and we always made sure to leave many for the next harvest. We had learned to appease the Old Man Coyote.

  And our learning was written on those walls.

  Long ago, when I was just a boy, I arose late one night. A strong wind blew the skin of our tepee that night. Entranced by the flapping of the great buffalo, I walked quietly out to touch my cousin the wind. He struck my face pointing me towards the smoldering embers of the dying fire. There was something strange about that night. My fiery cousin always signified the instability of nature, and our elders were careful to never allow its capricious nature to dance alone. I walked to the fire and found the remains of one of the sticks still burning. Mesmerized, I lifted the fiery brand in a high arc above my head. As I did so the embers sparked and my cousin came back to life. He danced enticingly as if inviting me to a faraway land. I gasped as I remembered where I was. I stood on a large plateau below the great sandstone cliffs. A gully, which I had only seen my elders walk stood directly in front of me. As I peered at the old path, I felt my cousin the wind push me, and the fire reach forward, they urged me forward.

  And I obeyed.

  I remember all my nimble movements that night. I moved like our brother the antelope. I was careful to not extinguish the light, and I made sure that any rustle I made was the mere swishing of the wind. From rock to rock I climbed, wondering what awaited me at the top of the gully. As I neared the top I heard the soft rushing of water, and looked up to see through the darkness. I spotted it on my left side. It was a small waterfall, barely covering an opening to a cavern I found out later it concealed. It was a weak runoff during the summer, but I learned later that during the spring the monolithic cliff face could be covered in the torrential downpour of the great life-giver.

  But my path did not go to the waterfall.

  Instead, it led me straight and then wound up a steep incline to the right. I followed obediently, up that last steep incline. It was there that my heart was to be fused with history, where I was to touch my ancestors, and where my story was to begin. I reached the top of the climb and found the cave. It was enormous; I’d never seen anything like it before. I walked forward trying to find the back to it, and found it wasn’t as large as I had supposed. Its walls, although recessed, were easily accessible less than 20 paces inside. I looked around the cavern somewhat carelessly, surely this couldn’t be what I had come to find. But then I saw it! It was a soft glint of red on the wall to my left. I crouched in fear, what could it be? After some time in that mode I overcame my fear and crept towards it, and there on the wall I found it, written in red and black, the history of my people. I reached forward and touched the wall, touched those sacred murals of that cave, and suddenly I was transported…

  I was there!

  III

  I heard the chant of the eagle, the music of the hunter. I saw the dance of the Great Coyote and saw far away the shimmer of a black shaft, the sharp pointed conclusion of an obsidian spear. I looked around and realized I did not know any of the Apsaalookees around me, they seemed to be dressed differently as well. No longer did they have the soft fur of the bison, instead, it was replaced by a matted coarse hair. The hair seemed to stick out like a porcupine’s quills. I felt strange. This was the first time that I’d seen such a material, and I was a child of the Great Coyote, how could I not know a fur? Confused I looked back at what seemed to be the chieftain, they seemed to take no notice of me in the midst of the dance, so I joined in. Whooping and howling I reached up with one arm and back down with the other I swooped down at the earth as though a bird of prey on the hunt. As quickly as they started the drums stopped. I looked up and saw the chieftain leading the men out in a crouching jog.

  Everything happened so quickly, before I knew it I was swept up in the hunt. I ran along stooping here, crouching there. We ran, it seemed like miles, but we crossed the vast expanse as silently and as thoroughly as
a wave of ants on the prairie. Hills, canyons, and plains we crossed like clouds in the sky. Suddenly we came to the crest of a hill, and looking down I saw them. They were the largest beasts I had ever seen. Mighty tusks like the horn of brother deer reached down from their mouths daring to crush and flip anything in their path. That same matted coarse hair reached out haphazardly from their fly ridden tails.

  Our chieftain signaled and all fell to the ground. He pointed to the right and ten of the younger men ran off in a long circle behind the massive beasts. As they disappeared into the distance, the chieftain signaled again and another group went off to the left but they cut back to the center after swinging off to the right. As they cut in, the other group moved in directly behind the beasts. As they did so they began to scream and howl. The beasts, mighty and majestic as they were, seemed disturbed. They tried to make off together, but it was too late, one of them ran towards the spears of the men in the left group. The mighty beast was cut off from the flock. Whooping the chieftain signaled running forward, the men surrounded the great beast. A few foolishly threw their spears at the great beast and
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