Want to read the opening scenes of the soon-to-be-released novella, The Journey of Runs-Far, a story that puts a cap on the Kindred series (Mountain Laurel and Shiloh) and revisits characters from some of my earlier novels (details here)?
Be my guest!
Kagali — Bone Moon
Outside the lodge snow was melting, muddying village footpaths. Inside a fire blazed, warding off the cold. In a nest of blankets near the fire’s warmth lay a beloved elder, who was dying.
At least that was what everyone assumed that elder was doing—had been doing for days. Long enough that all who wished to bid him farewell had been sent for. Many had come, some from beyond the high, sheltering blue mountains the elder called home, to slip by twos and threes into the lodge where he and his son were living. Or in the elder’s case, dying.
This man, who some called Timothy, had years ago gone back to thinking of himself as Runs-Far, the name his mother’s Longhair Clan gave him as a boy who, not surprisingly, loved to run. Timothy was the name given when, not yet blooded in battle, he had prayed with a holy man, repented of sin, and become a Jesus-follower. It was long since he felt he merited that name. Now he was dying.
Runs-Far had first observed death stalking him in midwinter. Having seen sixty-six winters did not make him terribly old, yet he had not prayed to be delivered. With more relief than regret he had turned to watch death creeping up on him like a panther before it springs.
Lying in the blankets now, eyes fast shut and unaware of the people gathered, Runs-Far had stopped thinking about dying. He was thinking, or maybe dreaming, of Walnut, the wife of his youth, taken from him nearly forty years ago. Lost. Surely dead. Yet there she stood in the lodge, beside the central fire. Its flame-light licked over her nut-brown skin, flashed in her nut-brown eyes, struck sparks in her curling, nut-brown hair. Others had called her looks odd, neither white, nor African, nor Aniyunwiya—The People, the Tsalagi—but a mix of all. Runs- Far thought her beautiful. He smiled to see her again, after all this time.
Walnut did not smile. With her neat little hands planted on narrow hips, she scowled as she used to when he had done a thing to vex her, back in the days when they were young, and a son and daughter played at their fire. Runs-Far’s heart leapt to see that aggrieved expression, if only because it was clear time had dulled his memory of his young wife, leaving him with the rippled image one catches in water before a skin is dipped. This was Walnut’s true self, sharp and clear.
Strange she should be scowling though. It was not the way a dead wife soon to reunite with a dying husband ought to look, over in that life-to-come where she had long been waiting with Creator-Jesus.
Unless Walnut was not waiting for him on the other side, but somewhere still on this side. Still living and waiting for him to find her.
“Those ones who chose your boy-name got it wrong, my husband,” she said. “Runs-Far, they called you. Turns-Around-And-Goes-Home-Without-Trying is what they should have called you!”
“What?” The word croaked from his throat, long unused, even as dread built in Runs-Far’s heart. “That is what you say to me, after these many years?”
“Did you expect better?” Walnut, always quick with her tongue, shot back. “Those soldiers took me from our village. But you did not come for me. You did not come for your child!”
The one unborn. Taken with its mother. It was true, though Runs-Far had managed not to think about it for a while, waiting for death to pounce. Now that old ache of guilt and grief took hold of his faltering heart.
“But I did. I came after you!”
Walnut waved a hand. “A little way only. Until the path split at your feet. Then you turned tail like a startled deer and bounded for home!”
Runs-Far remembered much about that terrible time he and Blue-Jay, their son, returned from their sojourn, taking word of Creator-Jesus to far-flung villages, to their people who had not yet heard. It was in a time of unrest, back when the British in the east had quarreled with the French in the west, with the Aniyunwiya caught in the middle, pressed to choose a side. Some had chosen the French and gone raiding eastern settlements. In retaliation, white men with rifles had come west over the mountains and raided Runs-Far’s peaceful village, killing some.
Those soldiers had not killed his and Walnut’s little daughter, Redwing, but had taken Walnut with her belly growing another child and carried her off, a prisoner. When Runs-Far and Blue-Jay returned much time had passed. The village had moved to new place. The soldiers’ trail was cold.
Desperate with grief, he had traveled over many mountains to the place where that holy man who had taught him, Reverend Pauling, had not long since been buried, seeking help from those who had known and loved that good man, his hope no more than a thread. There that thread had snapped. That place had been deserted, the people gone from their houses, their fields abandoned. Gone to forts, as the white people did in times of war. A place he would find no welcome but be shot before he reached its gates.
There had been too many other places Walnut might have been taken by soldiers for him to know where next to search. The Carolinas. Georgia. Virginia. Or so he had believed. What path had he missed seeing?
“In your fear, you chose the wrong fork in that path,” Walnut told him now. “It led you back the way you came, away from me. From our child. And not just us.”
Distracted from paths by this mention of some other he had failed, Runs-Far tried to push himself up from his death-bed. The struggle left him panting, as he had done as a boy running up mountains. “Who else?”
“Him!” Walnut’s chin tipped, pointing toward the lodge door.
As Runs-Far looked, the fire went out, plunging the lodge into blackness. No light showed at the door. He could see no one there. He could not see the hand he lifted before his face.
Death had sprung at last, he thought.
Then a Voice spoke, crooning through his soul with a mother’s tenderness. Shaking his frame like thunder on a mountain.
“I know you, Timothy. By the Light that is in you and for My Name’s sake you have continued your good work among your people and have not fainted. Yet I have this against you—your heart is on the ground where you left it long ago. You no longer love as you did. Remember where you left your heart. Take it off the ground and let it beat with the love it once knew. Else I will come again and next time I will remove your light from the earth.”
Runs-Far lay trembling. He knew the Voice. And he understood that the place Walnut had spoken of, where the path had split, was the place he had left his heart lying on the ground. He was meant to return there.
But why did Creator send Walnut to tell him about splitting paths? Was he meant to seek for her again, as well as his own heart? How could he find a wife lost almost forty winters past? It was too much to expect of an old man. He had left it too late. And yet … the Voice had called to him when he had not heard even a whisper of it in so long. The Voice had called him Timothy.
“Edo’da!” he cried. Father.
And he woke.
Runs-Far opened his eyes and sat up, letting the blankets fall away. He was lying by the central fire in his snug, familiar lodge, which was not dark but bright with firelight. He saw its sturdy frames for storage and sleeping built against log walls hung with spare shirts and moccasins, with nets and frame-stretched hides, and his old bow with its quiver, dusty from disuse. He saw its earthen floor strewn with reed-mats woven by his daughter, and hers. And he saw the faces. Many faces ringing him. Startled faces enlivened by fire-shadows that leapt and bounced off chins and noses and blinking eyes.
These faces were not dreams, though some had aged since last he saw them, and it took a moment to put names to a few. His gaze settled last on one face he would know no matter where or when. The face of his eldest child.
Blue-Jay was no young man either, though grief had aged him beyond his fifty winters. Despite the beaded sheath-knife at his neck, the faded, blue-checked shirt he often wore, the leggings and breechclout that did not distinguish him from any other Tsalagi man present, he might have been a white man, this son born not of Runs-Far’s body but of his prayers. Born with his father’s skin and his mother’s nut-brown eyes and hair, the
latter streaked now with gray.
“Edo’da?” Blue-Jay said, first among the starers to speak. He had more chin hairs than did men born to the Aniyunwiya, another thing that marked his white blood. Though by habit he kept his face clean of them, it had been several days since he tended to that task. His cheeks were peppered with beard stubble, his eyes bruised with care and little sleep.
Runs-Far’s heart swelled with love, knowing himself the cause of both. Remembering he had been very ill. The grip of that illness had released him. He swallowed and rasped, “My son.”
The words sent murmurs buzzing through the lodge, a sound like swarming bees. Blue-Jay’s hand lifted, commanding silence. “Are you …?” He stopped and made a second start. “We thought it time for you to … be going on.”
Blue-Jay glanced to his right, where sat Thunder-Going-Away, chief of their village, hair hanging down from a blue head-wrapping like white wings to either side of his leathery face. Runs-Far smiled to see him. Then he remembered the Voice and what it had said.
“So I thought, too, that I would be going on to see the face of Creator at last. But that journey must wait. Creator has let me know that I have left a thing undone.”
Blue-Jay gaped. “What have you left undone?”
Runs-Far saw beside him a horn cup. Taking it in trembling fingers he raised it and sipped. Water. He drank it down like courage for the thing he had next to tell his son, then set the cup aside.
“There is another journey I must make first.”
The bee-hum erupted again. This time Blue-Jay did not silence it. His eyes had flown wide, making him appear much like the boy who still ran laughing through Runs-Far’s memories. “Another journey?”
The true question stirred in his son’s eyes. Was Runs-Far able to stand on his feet and walk across that lodge, much less make a journey?
“I am not dying today.” Runs-Far pushed aside the blankets, bent stiffened legs, and gazed round at the staring faces. Clan, family, friends, those who had listened while year after year he taught of Creator-Jesus from the Holy Book the Reverend Pauling gave him long ago. “But neither am I getting younger. I need your help, my son.”
“But Edo’da. Where is it you mean to go?”
It was a question Runs-Far could not answer. Not yet.
“I must find—” He tried to rise and fell back. It might be far, this journey he must take, but it would not be swift. He was wobbly as a spring fawn. Then he felt the arm of his son around him, strong and sure, and changed what he meant to say. One word of it. “We must find your mother.”
The Journey of Runs-Far releases November 23. Pre-Order today!
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