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Thunderbird: Prologue
The Grandfather Flight of Panther-Across-the Moon and the Man-Eaters

A story suggested by Ishmael Johnson and executed by James LaFond

Cherry Moon, 1676, at the Coming Together of the Wild-goose and Tumble-down-by-the-hills Rivers

The scheming chief of Lonely Mountain was three moons gone.

The scheming People-traders, whom the Tree-eaters traded their very own Spirit-island to, were now trading war for iron and thunder—and the Man-Eaters were trading iron and thunder for war.

There was a white-on-white war in Tobacco, where the Falling-waters had been slaughtered by the Young Whites, and the mud town of the Old Whites had likewise been burned by their youngers.

Forty strong, all blooded in the war between the Whites and their Pet Humans, Panther-across-the-moon and the most restive warriors of Wolf and Bear, men now one with the Spirit of Thunderer, had taken the Long-war-way—possessed of a vision of swooping down out of the Big Water Mountains into the camps of the Young Whites, an enemy to make one great in name, an enemy that had already defeated humans and whites in war.

But first there was Crossing Rock. It was said that He-who-makes-rivers sought Deeper Sunset in his white sky canoe from this sacred place.

Slaughtering whites for iron and thunder was not enough for the elders and the women at the One Fire Counsel. Further, taking this matter to the Five Fire Counsel was not in the spirit of this path, this way of reaffirming the ancient character of his tribe—and Panther-across-the-moon was of the Wolf Clan, possessed of a stronger wolf sense than his father and his Grandfather, men well-dreaded in their own days.

In the end, these men, on this long-war-way, were in search of their Grandfathers, in search of the spirit of their tribe as it had roared as the torch of winter war in the days before the Whiteman and his black thunder dust, in the days before the winged houses of stench fouling the shellfish waters, in the days before stands of ghost trees as far as the eye could see wept sap in a world become forever winter—in the days of their bloody-handed Grandfathers.

The climb up from Wild-goose-river to the forehead of Crossing Rock had been exhilarating, but they were afraid to emerge from the forest, for the Thunder was strong, so strong that it cut the air, as if Thunderer himself had been summoned back into the lower world—and no cloud was there in the wide sky.

Swims-by-night whispered in his ear as they crouched and shook like leaves apprehending the first snow above Crevice-lake. The voice of the man quavered as he questioned his war-chief, “War Owl has called down our death—a fine way to meet our Grandfathers!”

“Perhaps he has summoned Thunderer’s son in his white sky canoe?” offered Panther-across-the-moon.

Axe-and-sack, eldest of the warriors, the thatched hair on his back already grey to white, crouched forward and grumbled so loud that the rest shivered the more, expecting him to call down the wrath of Thunderer, “Blue Elk and I once hunted with the Summer People beyond the Great River, into the land of the Longhairs, beyond the trees. There I saw a thunderbird, or at least the whirlwind kicked up by its tail, a whirlwind that threw trees across the mighty river. This would be a thunderbird—and how else would Thunderer return but as one of his birds?”

The war-axe was out. The young war-chief could not hold back in the face of this old warrior’s story.

Panther-across-the-moon, stood, un-cocked his musket, lay it at rest across his arm, slung his war-axe on its back-loop and strode forward, up and out of the thick-needled pines, across the jagged brow of the rock that judged winter people who headed to summer battlegrounds on the Long-war-way.

In the time it takes to empty a fish weir, all forty warriors of the Man-eaters, who had collectively absorbed the spirits of four times their number of enemy—tasting hearts, but not flesh, as their Grandfathers had, for the Five Fire Counsel, under Two-rivers-coming-together-to-make-one, had forbidden it. But the heart must yet be taken—they were Man-eaters after all, erasers of six peoples, warrior tribe of the Long-house-people.

What thundered before them, dwarfing the large, bent form of War Owl, his white beard threaded in braids through seven raven skulls, yet blowing in the fierce wind created by the thing that flew without flying?

Swims-by-night shouted into the face of Axe-and-Sack, “Is this a thunderbird?”

The old warrior frowned in a craggy, open-faced way and yelled, absently, “It looks more like a fish which has eaten some snipes, who have tried to escape from his mouth and his butt and their efforts at flight are keeping him aloft?”

Chestnut-thief stepped forward and yelled, “No, it’s a snapping turtle flying under magical maple seeds!”

Axe-and-sack snapped, “I can’t believe I sexed your mother in return for looking out for you!”

“Enough!” shouted Panther-across-the-moon, as he walked forward to the hovering thunder fish, the wind blowing back the feathers and quills of his topknot and making his eyes squint. As he came closer he noted that beetle-headed white men sat within the insect eyes of this giant flying monster, which brought to mind that this might be some beetle vastly enlarged and imbued with thunder to do Thunderer’s will.

Then the great fish—actually looking somewhat finned like a salmon—spun around and defecated, but what it defecated was two men, men of odd aspect, though one was certainly a real person, not some white man, who simply wore the strange clothes, clothes which were somewhat light, which marked these beings perhaps, as white people who had somehow developed a spirit, for it was well-known that whites were already dead creatures in human aspect.

With that thought a shiver struck him, a shiver of otherworldly dread, as he realized that these men might be flying Wendigos! The thought of man-eating, white, forest spirits flying in a house-sized fish appalled him.

He would not balk, for he was Panther-across-the-moon and stepped boldly forward.

The human being in white man corpse dressing approached him with the sign of unarmed greeting for parley and, in a tone that sounded like music made with iron when it should have been made with maple, said, “Chief, gather your men around me if you will, so that you know I do not speak as the Whiteman speaks!”

He was proud to sense that his men had followed him closely and motioned with his arms for them to encircle him as if staking the stranger while the women gathered kindling for failing the gauntlet.

Forty, fierce, painted warriors of the Man-eaters stood and listened as the thunder paddles chopped the air above them and the weird human shouted, “Men of the long-houses, warriors of the Man-eaters, have you come to kill the Whites?”

A savagely affirmative whoop greeted these words!

The man then raised his voice, “Beyond the Sunset, beyond the Place of Grandfathers, beyond the Field of Knowing, there is a world where my Grandfathers failed to stop the Whiteman, a world where countless whites and their varicolored versions have rubbed out the Humans, a world which the Whiteman has eaten and where he teems in whimpering herds as he rips the very belly from the World! I say these white men are ready to die, to fall. Fellow Humans, if you accompany me beyond the Sunset the slaying will be great, the rivers will run red—you will, in your proud, bloody hands, bring the spirits of my Grandfathers back from the Nothing Horizon!”

The man then drew a knife and cut away his Whiteman clothes, revealing a scared and painted body of a warrior and screamed, “Will you walk within the belly of this flying salmon—will you avenge my people and take a world for your own!”

They all whooped as Axe-and-Sack ran for the flat poop gland of the giant flying fish and Panther-across-the-moon screamed, “Two traces,” and the men went two-by-two, one behind the other, as if they were tracing the crest of a long ridge along the Long-war-way.

As soon as he ran up the tail and into of the iron belly to the whoops of his waiting men, it began to close behind him. Soon the air paddles above paddled like crackling thunder. The sensation of being thrown in the air by one’s warriors to catch the top of a Whiteman pen to slay by the light of the thirsty moon overtook them all, and they whooped again as they dove before the wind like minnows in the belly of a salmon being born off beneath an eagle whose wings beat as thunder.

Today will be a good day to kill.

Reverent Chandler: The Saga of Fend

Add Comment
MescalineFranklinNovember 18, 2017 8:40 PM UTC

I know who I'm rooting for! Am I a traitor now? LOL!
Tony CoxNovember 17, 2017 9:36 PM UTC

I'm hooked.
responds:November 18, 2017 2:24 PM UTC

Ishmael suggested a hundred Blackfeet versus the entire city o Baltimore. But I have not researched that tribe and am using research I did for various other fiction and nonfiction works.

I'm glad you like it Mister Cox.