As everyone finished sitting, Nighthawk stood and gained the attention of all. He cleared his throat and began.
“Today has been a blessed day. Our hunters went out and brought home many meals for the tribe. Spring is a lean time, so any bounty is welcome now. So, tonight, we celebrate the feast Great Spirit has given us. Additionally, we celebrate new life within our tribe. I see that Dragonfly has come this evening with Minnow in her arms. We welcome new life!”
“We welcome new life!” the tribe repeated.
“Furthermore, Phoenix has chosen to commit herself to the Neme’o’ng, going so far as to learn some of our words in order to ask my permission with a level of devotion I rarely see in someone coming to shelter with us. She has, indeed, risen from the ashes of her past to become a close friend to my daughter and a valuable part of this tribe.”
“Just don’t give her coffee!” someone quipped.
“Enough!” Nighthawk censured instantly. “As most of you are very well aware, we take in abused and otherwise injured people – often young women – and to make jokes at her expense is hurtful and injurious. It took great courage for Phoenix to stand up for herself in the way she did – even if her actions didn’t meet the approval of everyone.”
Phoenix felt her cheeks burning and didn’t dare look anywhere other than the face of the chieftain.
“Stand, Phoenix,” he requested, meeting her eyes. “I was very proud of you when you requested permission to stay in Ba’a O’ng,” Nighthawk said, smiling at her. “It is my pleasure to welcome you as a resident and member of the Neme’o’ng tribe. We welcome Phoenix to our tribe!”
“We welcome Phoenix to our tribe!” the tribe echoed.
“Let us eat!” Nighthawk announced, indicating that his table should go and get food. Phoenix was ushered to the front of the line with Skye, Rose, Dove and Little Deer. Sarah with Minnow was right behind her, Crow escorting her.
“So, it’s true!” Sarah said quietly into her ear. “You did pour coffee down Sage Eagle?!” she giggled.
“He accused me of not being sincere in wanting to stay here!” Phoenix growled. “He hates me!” She helped Rose with her plate of food – as usual, Rose’s eyes were bigger than her stomach! “This place will make me fat!” she complained to Sarah a moment later.
“Tell me about it! I can go a couple of days without eating after a tribe meal!” Sarah replied. “But if Sage Eagle hates you so much, then why does he stare at you?”
Phoenix couldn’t help looking, only to meet his chocolate eyes again. She looked back at Sarah. “Probably to mock me. He can’t stand to be around me!”
Sarah shook her head. “I don’t believe that… I’ve known Sage Eagle for almost a year now and that’s not something I can believe he’d do, not intentionally.”
“He did though. He mocked me… I wouldn’t have done something so crazy had he not!”
“Then he’s head-over-heels… it’s the only thing that makes sense.”
“He can’t love. He lost before and can’t love now.”
“His head tells him that, I agree, but I don’t believe his heart thinks that – not now. Give him a chance, Phoenix.”
“I can’t!” Phoenix replied, her heart hurting. “I tried… but I can’t.”
“Then, I’m truly sorry.”
They were back to the table now where Crow and Sage Eagle sat down opposite them again. She wished she could change tables without it looking bad. It hurt knowing that the knees the bumped against hers were his… the strong, brown hand picking up his cup only inches from hers was his… She tried not to look at him, but sometimes, she looked anyway and sometimes, his eyes locked onto hers. She hoped he couldn’t see the hurt in her face, the unshed tears that threatened. As excited as she was to be part of the tribe, this was torture. All she wanted to do was leave.
Later, the girls in bed, Phoenix sat working on her beading. She pricked her finger multiple times, like it was adding to the torture of her heart. She didn’t know whether she was doing anything useful or not, whether her efforts would be appreciated.
Somewhere, in her heart of hearts, she wanted to believe what the others had said – that Sage Eagle was watching her with interest, not with disdain. If there was the slightest chance that she could love him safely – and not have it thrown back at her, her heart broken afresh – then she would take that chance. From all that had been said, this man was worth the risk, despite everything they’d already exchanged. He wasn’t special because he was Nighthawk’s son… he was special because she loved him.
This peace offering she worked on was more than that, it was a token of love and affection. She sighed, thinking about the monumental amount of bravery it would take to give it to him. She had no idea how she would manage that… at a tribal meal was too public, too formal. But maybe while he was working on her house this weekend, she could give it to him, privately, maybe within view of his father so that he wouldn’t mock her efforts to her face. She knew it was possible that Nighthawk already knew of her project, so he would make a good witness. He wouldn’t mock her – nor would Sage Eagle dare with his father watching.
“You are staying up?” Dancing Bear asked, standing in the doorway in her nightgown, her long braids draped over her shoulders. She was beautiful, even with the ample silver streaking her black hair. Phoenix hoped she might be so lucky as to grow old so gracefully.
“I have a project to finish.”
“Do not push yourself and spoil your work. You have plenty of time.”
“I need to finish it.”
“I dare say you need one or two more nights, at least, but I will not stop you.” Dancing Bear watched for a few more minutes, then went to bed.
Phoenix spent much of the next hour finishing the actual eagle, then forming the first of her flames reaching to tame him and make peace. She wished she were clever enough to put an olive branch in the talons of the eagle… maybe another time. She sighed as she secured another row of yellow and orange beads to the fabric. As she rubbed her eye, she realized that she was crying again. He might not be worth her tears, but they fell anyway.
“Please, Great Spirit!” she prayed softly. “Help me finish this project! Make it be well received… Let him love me.”
Back to the prologue
Available to purchase at Books2Read. Print version will be available soon.
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Previous Swan Valley Stories:
- Native Concession either in ebook form or [print]( . (June 2014, approximately 9 months before Phoenix.)
Swan Valley is a fictitious American Indian reservation located in the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming, USA. The Neme'o'ng (Swan People) are based on the idea of blending the Shoshoni and Arapaho peoples - as might have happened if they were stranded in a desolate area as a small band of misfits. I have developed their language from the same ideas.
Please read my note on romance, teenage intimate relationships and underage sex. I apologize if my understanding conflicts with your sense of morality, but I'm only looking at things realistically, not ideologically. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing!
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