Teesah dipped his horsehair brush into the yellow ocher. He would paint a sun on the deerskin covering of the lodge, a sun chased by cold winds. It was how he would record the harsh past winter.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see grass swirling where the white boy, Medicine Walker’s son, crept toward the woods. He’s a strange one, that Ethan! Although Teesah had seen him only a few times, he had not yet talked with him. Once, he had called out a greeting, proud that he could speak the white man’s language almost as well as his father could.
Ethan had not answered him. Well, the men don’t take him hunting, either, Teesah thought.
They had gone out after a wild boar that morning—the boar had stampeded their herds twice now—and Medicine Walker had left Ethan with Teesah’s aunt.
Teesah would have given anything to be in on the hunt. His bow and arrows rested against the lodge he was painting. He had laced the quiver himself and filled it with brightly feathered wind walkers. He was proud of the arrowheads that he had made from flint during the winter. It had kept him busy, especially after his leg had been broken. It throbbed, even now, and it was healing crookedly. Teesah could not keep up with the men or even the boys his own age.
“Maybe in time,” his father had said, but his voice was full of doubts.
And his mother had whispered gently. “Don’t worry. You have a head full of words. You can learn to speak any tongue that you want to, Son.”
Can I speak the language of the buffalo? he wondered. Call down the eagles? Talk the magic of the spirit healers so that I can stalk through the woods without stumbling?
He could already talk with his hands and his fingers, however, and he knew how to make smoke messages. He even spoke the languages of tribes that he had not met, and he wondered if he would ever get to meet them.
Despite his gift for language, Teesah had not yet gotten the white boy to listen to him.
Ethan had come across the hard-packed earth with his father during the Moon of the Wolves. Howling winds had snatched food from the mouths of papooses and had sent mothers wailing into their lodges. The boy and his father had come with mules laden with corn, beans, and soft bags of flour. They might never know just how much the supplies had helped Teesah’s people. They had stayed only a few days, then left, but Medicine Walker had promised to return in the spring, and now they were here again.
Teesah wondered what it must be like to wander the face of the earth as they did. They had been to the Eagle People, to the People of the Pueblos, to others who followed the buffalo as Teesah’s people did, and to those who had ridden wild rivers. If he could talk with Ethan, Teesah would learn of those strange worlds.
And yet the boy reminded Teesah of the ghost people, those who were injured in their senses and not quite whole. They walked close to the spirit world and did not last long in any village.
Still, there was a bright spark of life in the boy’s eyes—and a sadness there that Teesah didn’t understand. He dipped his brush into earth umber and wood black and was ready to stroke the flight of the birds across his skin canvas, when a piercing shriek halted his hand.
There was a crashing in the woods, and he could hear the men drawing closer. His mother screamed, her hand waving wildly toward the trees.
It took only a moment for Teesah to realize that the wild boar must be heading for the village and that the men were trying to change the animal’s course.
Such a boar could rout through the lodges like a tornado, tearing up everything in its path. Even worse, it could kill women and children!
Teesah stumbled away from the lodge that he was painting. His leg rippled with pain as he forced himself to move faster and faster. He added his shouts to those of the men.
At the top of a small outcropping he paused, watching the grass for the path that the boar would take. If he saw it, he could keep it from reaching the village. Then his next thoughts filled him with shame. He had no bow nor arrows. Great warrior that he was, he had left them behind!
And as the grasses swirled, he remembered where Ethan was—right in the wild boar’s path!
None of Teesah’s shouts attracted the white boy, who was completely unaware of any danger. Teesah quickly raised the cloth on which he had wiped the fiery red paint of the setting sun and waved it wildly up and down. Something about the color or its rapid motion attracted the boar. It changed its path and headed right for him.
Teesah hoped that at the last instant his crippled leg would support him so that he could jump clear of the boar. He hoped that the animal would continue its charge and not turn back on him, because he could not outrun it. Holding his breath, he prayed to the Great Spirit for protection.
Suddenly an arrow pierced the air, then another! The boar squealed and fell at Teesah’s feet. It was over!
Anger crashed through Teesah as he saw Ethan walking toward him as if nothing had happened. Then, finally understanding, he said, “You can’t hear a thing, can you?”
“No, he can’t,” Medicine Walker answered, coming toward the boys. “We survived a fever early in the winter, but Ethan lost his hearing. Perhaps you can teach him. Maybe Heavenly Father sent us here because you have the language that will help him.”
Teesah’s anger died like burnt embers washed with water. He had thought that the boy was a poor hunter and a coward and that he was unwilling to go out with the men and do his share. Now he thought about how hard it must have been for Ethan to come here in the teeth of the howling winds, not able to hear anything. It must have taken great courage to come among a people who did not understand, when you could not even talk with them. Teesah had ignored all the signs as unthinkingly as he had left his bows and arrows behind.
Turning toward Ethan, Teesah lifted his fingers, making the sign of the wild boar by circling two fingers downward for the sign of a snout and pointing two upward for its ears. Then he pointed to the animal in front of them. “There is much that I can teach him,” he told Medicine Walker. “I can show him how to make the most of his other senses. He should wear soft moccasins in spring and summer so that he can hear the earth talking through his skin. He can sense dangers coming along on a wind with his nose and his tongue.”
Medicine Walker smiled at Teesah. “I think that we can give you something as well,” he said. “I know how to make a certain kind of splint, and I can reset your leg for you so that it will heal the right way this time. It will take great courage and patience, and you might need to camp with us for a time.”
Teesah considered the suggestion carefully. He would be little good to his people when it came time to hunt the buffalo again if he could not run. And there was much knowledge that he could learn in the white man’s world, knowledge that could benefit all of them.
It was true that he had foolishly left his weapons behind, but he had used his head. And he could see pride in the eyes of his father for what he had done. What was a little pain compared to what he had just been through?
He accepted the offer, extending his hand. As he walked beside Ethan back to the village, the white boy’s fingers moved rapidly through the air, copying every motion Teesah made for him. Soon they were going to be having wonderful conversations!