Words: 1000 / Theme: The Frontier
‘What does the earth say to you, Tasunke?’ That was what Tasunke’s mentor, the High Shaman of the Santee tribe, had last asked of him. The wise man was long dead now, rest his bones, but still the question followed Tasunke wherever he roamed. It says nothing, he thought. It was a truth that had haunted him for almost six years.
‘Storm’s closing in,’ little Ayashe mumbled, chewing on the end of a well-used pipe. She rubbed her bare, skinny arms and climbed into the back of the wagon, on the hunt for her shawl.
Tasunke looked up at the sky and noticed a front of heavy black clouds. He skilfully played the reigns and encouraged their horse into a steady canter. ‘There’s a town ahead,’ Tasunke called at Ayashe. ‘We’ll have to stop there a while.’
Minutes later, the wagon slowed as it passed into the town, bearing the name “Farbridge” on a battered wooden signpost. Empty scrubland stretched on endlessly all around. The place was like an oasis in a desert and Tasunke was thankful.
‘Bring Maka down off the wagon,’ Tasunke said, placing a large, fatherly hand on Ayashe’s back. ‘I’ll see about some shelter.’
A strong, primal wind howled in Tasunke’s ears as he proceeded into Farbridge. Soulless storefronts and houses lined the wide road on either side, crushing Tasunke with an intangible despair. As he scanned around him for an empty barn or high-walled alley they could shelter in, strange voices and visions began to fill his head.
The Almighty One marches with the white man from the eastern coast. They bring His written testaments, His divine symbol and His blessed servants. Wakinyan will serve. Tasunke saw a great bird of prey wreathed in lightning, its cry like a clap of thunder. As the creature came at him, a huge black stallion, Tasunke’s power animal, dove at the bird and tore at it with its teeth.
Then, a sharp pain hit Tasunke square between the eyes and he rolled to the ground, knowing that instinct was saving his life as he returned to the real world. A lead bullet rushed through the air above him, kicking up a cloud of dust as it buried itself in the ground.
‘Tasunke!’ a shrill voice cried. ‘Come quickly!’
Tasunke pulled himself off the ground and dashed back to where he’d left the wagon. On either side of the road, townsfolk were emerging from the buildings with lightning in their eyes and guns in their hands. They tried shooting at him as he passed, but Tasunke was too quick, too agile, and he weaved between the criss-cross of bullets like dancing between raindrops. Ahead, a ring of these brainwashed souls had formed around the wagon while Ayashe fended them off with a long spear. Tasunke charged his way through to the wagon.
‘They came out of nowhere!’ Ayashe shouted, whirling her spear in the air and impaling an advancing attacker through the abdomen. ‘The horse bolted as soon as they came.’
‘We need to get Maka away from here,’ Tasunke said, pulling the limp form of a frail old woman from the back of the wagon. She was breathing, but only just. ‘She needs to commune with Untunktahe before we lose her. Wakinyan has betrayed us to a foreign god.’
‘You must go,’ Ayashe growled, readying herself for another attack. ‘If we lose Maka, we lose the Earth Mother forever. I would rather die.’
‘You show great honour,’ Tasunke said, clasping her hand in his one last time. ‘We will see each other again.’ With a final smile, Tasunke lifted Maka onto his shoulder and closed his eyes.
There was the black stallion again, walking slowly towards Tasunke, its eyes all-knowing. It knew what Tasunke was asking. As it drew closer, Tasunke spoke.
‘The earth says nothing,’ he said, ‘because it does not speak; it listens. The earth does not ask things of us; it gives. A thankless duty. My people have respected the soil beneath our feet for generations. I ask it now for help.’
The stallion nuzzled Tasunke’s face and lowered its head to the ground in a display of submission. Spirits guard you, child. We shall ride as one.
In a blaze of fiery light, Tasunke was brought back into the world. He felt power coursing through his body and cried out as the sounds of fighting rushed back into his head. With ease he kicked out his hind legs and scattered his enemies, their broken bodies never to rise again. He felt Maka lying across his back and his purpose, the one thing that mattered in the world, returned to him. He reared and bolted out of Farbridge, a trail of dust kicking up in his wake.
As he rode, Wakinyan clawed at his mind. His will cannot be contested. Untunktahe will not stop Him. Not even Inyan, the Father of the Sea, Earth and Sky, can give Him pause.
Tasunke pushed the insane voice from his thoughts and ploughed across the plains with a terrifying speed. He passed by mountains, rivers and forests, never stopping for rest. He tasted salt in the air as he neared the sea, yet still he didn’t slow. Then he was standing on the edge of the world, overlooking an endless blue vista.
This soil on which you stand is His frontier. It is for His servants and it is blessed by His divine will. Your cause is futile.
‘No,’ Tasunke said. ‘This land is Inyan and the water and sky are his blood. He made this land for all, not for a chosen few. This is not His frontier. This is nobody’s.’
Drawing his last vestiges of strength, Tasunke leapt from the cliff top and plunged towards the water, imploring Untunktahe, the great water spirit, to cleanse Maka and remake her as she had once been. The earth, the sea and the sky; these things would survive, but would the people who respected them?
He could only hope.