Death of Eagle Speaker Ian Prattis
Excerpt from Chapter Three of my forthcoming book Trailing Sky Six Feathers: One Man’s Journey with His Muse” It is like Indiana Jones meets the Buddha with a dash of Celestine Prophecy as we follow one man’s journey to accept The Muse capable of transforming his karma from violence and abuse to clarity and purpose. An exciting Hero’s Journey, this special and unique adventure through four centuries of my consciousness shines light on some of the darkest elements of the human condition, including my own. This clip is set in 18th century Arizona.
The landscape they travelled 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, just above the weeping willow tree where they had found Eagle Speaker. She 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. Long Willow had clearly marked the trail they took so the Clan Chiefs could follow. Trailing Sky asked the Clan Chiefs to carry her husband to the medicine wheel on a hastily built carrying frame, which Long Willow and Rising Moon had constructed. 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. She mixed her medicines with appropriate prayers, 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 and asked forgiveness from her mentors, 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. She had herbs and medicine prepared long ago for such an instance. 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 at the high bluff 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, leaving only the elderly and sufficient caretakers of their village behind. The families were quiet, knowing that this was not a usual death, but something very different. The Clan Chiefs, Long Willow and Rising Moon 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”
As Eagle Speaker began to travel on universal waves, Trailing Sky chanted the sacred song of the Sky People – the secret chant that saved their lives in that first terrible raid. She chanted their journey to the cave, to their care for the Earth Mother and for The People. Sharing at last in her husband’s smile she cried tears of pure joy to accompany the chant. She continued chanting throughout the night to prevent her grief from overwhelming her. The Clan Chiefs and family groups stayed close to her, as they knew this powerful woman would bring them all through to a different realization. On the dawn of the second day, Rising Moon, who had sat quietly outside the medicine wheel, approached her mother. She gently took her mother’s arm and whispered:
“It is time mother.”
Rising Moon had expected her mother to be gaunt and drained by grief, instead she gasped in surprise at the radiance of her mother’s face, framed as it now was by long white hair. The ordeal of her husband’s transition had turned Trailing Sky’s long black tresses to snow. She looked majestic and powerful, as she gently laid her husband’s head down from the cradle of her arms. Trailing Sky stood up and looked around at The People gathered on this high bluff above the gentle river. She lifted her arms to the sky as if she were holding him still. Long Willow stood beside her and did the same. All the People raised their arms at the same time – to the sky and to the universe. Then they heard Trailing Sky’s strong voice:
“We will prepare my husband’s body in the old way, for all our relations and the Earth Mother.”
She asked the Clan Chiefs to build a platform for Eagle Speaker’s body, so that his body could be offered to the elements in the same way as his grandfather before him. 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, following Trailing Sky’s instructions. Crow Feather, chief of the North Clan, had brought with him a freshly cured bear skin and he brought this to Trailing Sky, knowing that it would be needed. She thanked Crow Feather for his gift and gently wrapped her husband’s body with the bear skin, remembering that this was what Eagle Speaker’s grandfather had done when he met his death. 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. Trailing Sky climbed the notched pole that was the ladder to where her beloved lay. She was humming a chant to herself as she lovingly laid his favorite bow, arrow and spear by his side. She placed her medicine pouch in his hands clasped in front of his body, so that he would have sustenance for his next journey.
When she descended the notched pole and asked the chiefs to remove it, Trailing Sky requested that they return in six months to take the platform down and render to ashes anything that was left of Eagle Speaker. The ash was to be scattered to the four directions, into the river and into the sky. Then she stood in front of the funeral place of her husband and faced The People. She stood tall, magnificent and very powerful 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, from what she remembered him speaking of and from what she knew of him. 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. Long Willow was deeply distraught and leaned on her protégé among the women warriors – Dancing Mountain Lion – who stood strong while the tears coursed down her cheeks. 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. Trailing Sky chanted about the first deadly raid on their summer settlement and their retreat to the cave in the sacred canyon. She continued with the story of his wise preparation for the second raid, of how Eagle Speaker had orchestrated the changes that built The People stronger. She sang his wisdom and patience that wove a tapestry of co-operation between clans and peoples. She chanted of their child Rising Moon, the exquisite bond between daughter and father, and the tenderness he always showed to both of them. 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 that had been heard by Eagle Speaker, 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. Such was the power emanating from Trailing Sky. On hearing her mother’s words Rising Moon gasped out loud in pain and tears poured down her face. She was very still, swaying like a sapling in the morning breeze. She cried out:
“Mother, will I find him too?”
Trailing Sky gently took her beautiful daughter’s tear streaked face in her two hands and said:
“Yes my daughter. Eagle Speaker has traveled safely. We will both find him.”