The skree skree-piercing cry of the Great Eagle lifted Geronimo’s spirit. He felt his skin tingle and then he smiled at the sight of USEN’s messenger circling high in the cobalt blue sky. USEN is the great Eagle Spirit who created the Apache peoples in the beginning of time. USEN provides bounteous game, fresh water and the wealth of the many homelands under the Sky. The Sun was still slowly rising; the chill coldness of the night was melting away. Purple clouds thinned and spread like migrating geese; then they turned increasingly red, matching the sand and gravel scrublands that drank the last remnants of the morning mists.
This small brown-crusted salt lake in the mountains is sacred to the Apache. It is holy ground where the Apache do not hunt; they do not kill and they show total respect and uphold USEN’s peace in a real holy place as important as any shrine in Europe or temple in the East. The previous day Geronimo of the Bedon-Ko-He tribe, of the six Apache nations was harvesting salt and this had taken rather longer than he expected.
Niache and Porico, trusted braves and also close relatives, were with him, together with four younger braves desperate for action, impatient and looking to draw spears in anger so they might win their warrior rights and be allowed to marry. But tending the horses, making the camp, preparing flat breads and domestic drudgery was all they could hope for today, on this routine mission near the end of the year. Plus the land was quiet and Aztec Spain, to the South, had not as yet managed to penetrate into this cruel but beautiful and striking landscape. Legend has it Geronimo once said, ‘You cry twice for the Apache Nation. Once when you see their harsh lands and once when you have to leave it.’
He knew that his tribe actually had a far tougher enemy to face as winter approached. It could be viciously cruel in these mountains and desert lands of the South West. These lands are normally the homelands of the Sun. These companions were definitely not a war party nor were they a hunting party. That said and done, they would never pass over a wild turkey or two. Geronimo was facing up to winter as preparation is something any wise leader must do for his people; and salted meat lasts longer than untreated. However, as the sun rose higher, winter seemed an age away. Suddenly, like the flicking of a switch, it was like opening the oven door.
His lined copper face turned to the east and his eyes narrowed to scan that vague shimmering border between land and sky. As he focused on USEN’s messenger circling high in heaven above, it cried again. He felt the drop of liquid smack onto his cheek and instinctively wiped a spot of what he saw was blood away. His eyes opened wide and his nostrils flared. Then Geronimo’s instincts were confirmed. Why did he have this strange gift of seeing into the future? He was confused for a moment then, suddenly he heard in his mind the squealing of a thousand swine and the thundering of dragons. He did not believe in dragons but was happy to tell others tall stories of when these monsters that wandered the Apache Mountains and deserts in the deep past. What was making him uneasy, what was that feeling of trepidation he rarely felt, but recognized in the pit of his stomach when it seized him?
For a moment he saw the face of the Aztec Spanish captain he scalped two moons ago. That was bad, that spirit should have passed on by now, so Geronimo absently touched the carved thunderbird amulet he wore round his neck.
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