Excerpt from Chapter 3
The landscape they traveled through that night had a rare beauty and stillness. It felt as though time itself had stopped. A portent of things to come, a foreboding rebuke to the crisis they already knew they were to face together. By daybreak they found Eagle Speaker, near to death with fever and very cold underneath the weeping willow tree, whose branches touched lightly onto the river’s surface. Trailing Sky knew what to do with the fever to prevent it penetrating her and The People. She asked Rising Moon to fetch water from the river so her medicines could be prepared. She noticed that there was an ancient medicine wheel on a high bluff overlooking the canyon to the east and knew instantly that this was where she must take him. Help was immediately at hand as the Clan Chiefs with twenty warriors arrived.
They had carefully followed the tracks left by the three women. Trailing Sky asked the Clan Chiefs to carry her husband to the medicine wheel on a hastily built carrying frame. That was the place where she could summon the Sky People to help her. The Clan Chiefs gently laid the frame down in the medicine wheel so that Eagle Speaker’s head was in the west, his heart in the centre and his feet pointing to the eastern door of the medicine wheel. The eastern door was where the Sky People could enter. Yet Trailing Sky knew by this time that even her medicine powers were insufficient.
She called in the Sky People to save her husband, as they had long been her mentors in medicine power. They came as requested. Their light could be seen along the canyon to the east and it spread up to the medicine wheel into which Eagle Speaker had been placed. But Eagle Speaker was too far gone for even their extraordinary powers. Trailing Sky felt a momentary rush of rage at the inability of the Sky People to help her save Eagle Speaker. But she knew that her rage was a product of her grief and deep sorrow. She abandoned it immediately, requesting the Sky People to help her through the ordeal of her husband’s death that she was facing. She then lit four fires of sacred herbs within each quadrant of the medicine wheel to purify him for his journey across time and space. With some water from the river, brought up by Rising Moon, she held his head so he could drink it. Eagle Speaker came back to her for a moment and smiled. A beautiful smile that enveloped her with so much love that Trailing Sky almost broke down completely. She instantly remembered their first meeting – the silent young man offering her a bundle of feathers at a trading parley between her people and Eagle Speaker’s people. He did not speak and did not smile on that occasion – yet here he was dying in her arms with a smile of such gratitude and beauty.
It was almost too much for her and she had to hang on grimly to what she knew as a medicine woman and what she now had to do. Eagle Speaker knew it was his time and had no fear, just as his grandfather had known at his time of death. Eagle Speaker felt all the joy from the life he had spent with her. Trailing Sky’s heart was breaking, for she did not want to let him go. Yet the depth of wisdom within her knew that she could not keep him any longer. The grief and deep sorrow abated as Trailing Sky summoned all her internal strength and love to assist the journey from his body across time and space. She beseeched the Sky People to enable her to stay steady and for Eagle Speaker to journey safely.
By this time family groups from the village had arrived until there was over one thousand of The People gathered where their leader now lay in the centre of the medicine wheel. The Clan Chiefs had alerted all the families and they came en masse. The families were quiet, knowing that this was not a usual death, but something very different. The Clan Chiefs stood in silence round the medicine wheel. They were instilled with Trailing Sky’s calm and fortitude. Only she knew of her inward struggle and sorrow. She surmounted both successfully and then began to chant the sacred songs of her people. Trailing Sky knew not to vent her grief at this moment of Eagle Speaker’s traversing. As she sang, Eagle Speaker looked up at her with amazement as he had done so often before during their life together. Just before he drew his last breath, she cradled his head in her arms, leaned over and whispered softly in his ear, so that no-one would hear her:
“I will find you, my husband. I will find you”
She asked the Clan Chiefs to build a platform for Eagle Speaker, so that his body could be offered to the elements. The burial platform was constructed swiftly with vines strung across to carry the weight of Eagle Speaker’s body and the weight of their collective grief. The platform was placed next to the medicine wheel on the West side. Very tenderly the Clan Chiefs carried Eagle Speaker’s body to the platform that they had erected. The outline against the sky was stark at the top of the high bluff above the weeping willow tree and river, with the dark canyon stretching to the east. The fingers of the dawn had drawn daylight awake so everyone could see. The medicine women had strung vines of forest flowers, herbs and grasses around the four strong posts. She placed her medicine pouch in his hands clasped in front of his body, so that he would have sustenance for his next journey.
Then she stood in front of the funeral place of her husband and faced The People. She stood tall and magnificent before the thousand members of The People who had followed the path to this moment. She was calm and serene. All those gathered sensed her extraordinary medicine power. In a steady measure she began to chant the life story of her beloved Eagle Speaker. Her voice was strong and melodious and it carried directly to every listener. The People swayed backwards and forwards in a spontaneous dance that had its own unison. They clasped arms around shoulders that shook with grief as they danced forward and backward to the mesmerizing chant Trailing Sky offered to them. She chanted the circumstances of Eagle Speaker’s birth and his naming after the great eagle by his grandfather. Her voice carried the story of Eagle Speaker’s training with his grandfather in the mountains, desert and forests of their region and how Eagle Speaker came to live his life as constant prayer. She sang blessings for his mother and father and for all who nurtured him. She sang the story of her first meeting with this handsome young man who moved with the grace of a mountain lion, of how he named her with his gift of six feathers, of how their eyes had connected that first time as if drawn together by the threads of time.
Strong warriors bowed their heads and wept openly as her vibrant voice shook everyone to their core. Other warriors fell to their knees, overwhelmed by the burden of loss. The People were then uplifted from their sorrow when the chant from Trailing Sky carried everyone to remember all that Eagle Speaker had put in place for The People and the legacy left that they must cherish and build on. She sang his wisdom and patience that wove a tapestry of co- operation between clans and peoples. Then Trailing Sky’s voice fell silent for a moment. After a time that stretched painfully into infinity she announced to all with a voice that now had a deeper timbre and a source of power they were not expecting:
“I am Trailing Sky Six Feathers. I ask you all to be a witness of my last words to my husband, Eagle Speaker, before he died in this medicine wheel on the high bluff above the river.” It was as though every one of The People took a deep breath at the same time, waiting for Trailing Sky’s next words:
“As he smiled to me and took his last breath, I said to Eagle Speaker – I will find you my husband, I will find you.”
The ensuing silence cut through everyone’s tension, fear and grief. The words, now voiced by Trailing Sky for The People, was taken by a whisper of wind into every heart. The trees heard her words and told the animals and birds. The clouds heard her words and extended them to the Sky People. Across the forests, grasslands and mountains – her words echoed, growing stronger and more penetrating so that the universe itself paused to listen.