THE CAPTAIN OF THE CAPITAL VILLAGE OF the Bear nation gave the order. It was time to move the village again. The soil which had been so rich ten years ago now no longer yielded high stalks with ears full of yellow corn, or squashes or pumpkin fat with nourishment. A few miles away there was new land. They would move there, build their wall and their cabins, and a new capital would rise up on rich soil.
The nations of the Hurons--or in their own language the Ouendats, the People-of-One-Land-Apart-- could always find a new location for their villages. There was land to the north for the Bear nation; land to the south and east for the Cord nation; land to the center and south for the Rock nation. The forests were thick with cedar, birch, maple and spruce, providing wood and bark for their canoes and for their cabins which were called longhouses because of their shape. Land could be cleared for planting. There were mighty lakes for fishing. And the great river close by provided a waterway on which their flotilla of canoes, laden with beaver skins, furs and tobacco, could reach the French settlements in the area called Quebec. After bargaining, they would return to the land of the Hurons with metal pots, iron knives and arrow points, hatchets, blankets, and the prized porcelain beads.
Chiwatenwa, a chieftain's son, and his brothers, Teondechoren and Saoekbata, followed their father. Like the other braves they carried the tools of men to the new location--bows and arrows, javelins, knives, clubs and hatchets.
The squaws and the young girls of the family carried the makings of a longhouse. First they had packed blankets, winter clothing, dried eels and corn into bundles. Then they had salvaged and tied into rolls big pieces of bark from the top and sides of the cabins to be abandoned. The women carried these huge bundles on their shoulders, supporting them by fastening them to the ends of a broad leather strap which circled their foreheads. From another leather belt around their waists dangled kettles, knives, bark bowls and the possessions they cherished, clanging and clattering as they walked.
Chiwatenwa's father glanced back at his second son. The boy had reached manhood, for he could see over the tops of the heads of his uncles, and the round hard muscles of his chest and arms showed strength under his copper skin.
"The women of our cabin are heavily burdened. If you had taken a wife, Chiwatenwa, she could be sharing the work."
Chiwatenwa nodded to his father, but did not answer.
"Chiwatenwa does not care about such matters," his brother Teondechoren taunted, laughing meaningly. "He does not play the games which men enjoy. He does not even use tobacco!" Teondechoren patted the tobacco pouch on his back hip.
"Games?" answered Chiwatenwa in derision. "I do not care to gamble away the possessions I have worked hard to earn." He glanced at his brother, only two summers older than himself, and smiled at the manner in which he had adorned himself for the special occasion of the moving of the village. - Teondechoren wore a broad black band of paint across his face from ear to ear; his nose was painted red so that with its pronounced curve, it resembled a beak. He had outlined his eyes with white circles, and his body was shiny from crisscrosses of greasy paint. He wore his hair sticking up from the crown of his head in a tuft, while the rest of his head was shaved.
In contrast, Chiwatenwa's body shone from the natural oils of his skin, not paint, and he wore his straight black hair greased and flattened against his ears and neck.
Teondechoren frowned angrily. "So you do not choose to guess the straws--but if you are a man, you should have a squaw!"
Chiwatenwa threw his head back. The sun on his high cheekbones and straight nose gave him the appearance of a great chief. "Most of the squaws are sour-faced, with tempers that shoot anger like the clap of thunder and the flash of lightning. Without a squaw, I have peace, my brother."
Chiwatenwa's father interrupted them. "Brothers should not argue. Forget your differences. We are almost to the site of the new village, and we will have work--the cabin must be built."
Chiwatenwa nodded. Secretly he admitted to himself that he was not being honest with Teondechoren. There was one, he thought. She might consent to be a faithful wife.
Nonchalantly he turned his head to look at the women and girls far behind, weighed down with their burdens. But his eyes could not single out the slight girl with the black eyes that glistened like the sun on the lake waters at twilight.
A few days later their cabin, and the cabins of the other families were completed, turning the clearing into the new village. Chiwatenwa and the men who shared the same roof had felled the trees, peeled the bark, and shaped the thick branches into arbors which curved riblike over a span twelve feet wide and seventy feet long. The bench along both sides, which was their summer bed to protect them from the fleas on the ground, was in place. And storage shelves were suspended from the roof so that they could place garments and provisions there, safely away from the ever present mice.
The whole outside frame of the cabin had been covered with sheets of cedar bark, overlapping like shingles, and tied securely by cords of linden bark. The twelve fires were spaced at equal intervals along the center of the longhouse from front to back. Since two families shared a fire, the twenty-four families who lived under the same roof with the father of Chiwatenwa were comfortably settled.
In celebration, the Captain of the village called a feast. The squaws prepared small game and cooked the corn mush, or sagamite, with dried fish. After the meal, the chiefs and the braves sat in large circles and smoked their tobacco.
When the talk became too long-winded among the older men, some of the younger braves proposed the game of straws. Chiwatenwa watched them as they feverishly collected piles of peeled willow sticks from their cabins. They no longer asked him to play. They knew he could see no sense in such sport.
Teondechoren and his opponent sat facing each other, the bundle of sticks on a mat before them. They began to utter cries to their oqui--their good luck charms--praying to win. Teondechoren put a handful of porcelain beads on the ground. His opponent matched them. Then, still chanting loudly, they divided the bundle and placed their bets, hoping to select the one with the odd number of sticks and thus win.
Chiwatenwa was bored and disgusted. He knew the game would go on endlessly until the bets were furious and one of the players would be stripped of all his belongings. Abruptly he uncrossed his long legs and walked away. It would be a good time to work undisturbed on his new set of bows and arrows. He went to his cabin, and taking a bundle wrapped in skin, walked beyond the forest to the clearing near the lake.
As Chiwatenwa scraped and rubbed the piece of cedar he had chosen for his bow, he wondered about himself. Why was it that he was different? Why was it that he could not accept many of the customs: He did not approve of the gambling games. He mistrusted the sorcerers who were supposed to make sick people well. He did not like the continual noise at the gatherings. He felt it was wrong for men and women to be free in their marriages as was the common custom. As for the dream, well, it was dangerous not to believe in the dream.
Chiwatenwa frowned as he heated the cedar piece before a fire to toughen the wood. Was there an answer somewhere for him? Would he someday find the meaning of man's life?
He tied the strip of twisted rawhide which he had prepared to the ends of his cedar piece, and then placed the finished bow on the ground. The same thoughts taunted him as he carefully scraped a piece of slate to form an arrowhead, sharp and fine.
Gradually he became absorbed in his work as he tied the arrowhead to the end of a straight piece of wood with the fresh sinews of a rabbit. The sinews would dry and shrink, and the arrowhead would remain firmly in place. He fastened feathers at the other end of the wood and held the arrow up to inspect it, satisfied that it was good.
As Chiwatenwa made his arrows, he became aware that he was not alone. He raised his eyes and saw that a girl had walked silently past him a few dozen feet away and was now gracefully sitting bent over the lake with one hand swinging in the water. Her long thick braid fell over her shoulder.
Chiwatenwa put down his arrow. He felt a movement in his breast which made him catch his breath in sudden excitement. It was she--Aonetta.
He jumped to his feet and ran to her, sitting beside her. She raised her eyes and smiled at him.
"I saw you come this way, Chiwatenwa," she said, her voice low and gentle.
The Indian brave did not answer. He was staring at her, his face almost frighteningly serious. Aonetta smiled nervously. "Are you angry with me?" she whispered.
"You are a girl, and you came to me--" he paused. "Would you go to another brave?"
Aonetta looked into the water. Her mouth was quivering. She did not answer. "Look at me, Aonetta."
She turned her head back to him and caught him with her eyes.
"I would ask you to be my wife, but you must know the terms. I will demand that you remain my wife alone--and I will pledge to be faithful to you until my death."
Aonetta's mouth widened. She smiled, her eyes shining till they filled with tears.
"How I hoped you would say that, Chiwatenwa! I am so happy that you will love me alone. You have my pledge. I shall be your faithful wife."
Chiwatenwa took her hands, and the pledge was sealed with the love that lived in the eyes of both.
Chiwatenwa was happy as he approached his twentieth summer. His bride was of such a gentle and kind nature that he had peace at his fire. Aonetta had begun at once to work with the of the cabin, helping them to burn the tree stumps and remove the roots in the clearing which was being prepared for growing corn. She helped clean the ground of debris, dig the holes, and sow the handful of soaked maize in each spot.
She crushed the corn for the sagamite, and ground dried corn between stones, fanning it then with bark to make fine corn meal for baking. In her leisure moments, she carefully polished bark bowls and made needles from the sharpest fish bones.
Thinking of all Aonetta had done, Chiwatenwa was proud and happy as one day he was making his preparations to go on a few weeks' fishing trip.
Aonetta waved good-by to him as he left the cabin to go a few miles into the forest to work on a fine piece of bark from which he was making a new canoe. He worked away cheerfully, but before many hours had passed, Chiwatenwa's lightheartedness was cut abruptly by the sound of his brother Teondechoren's voice.
"Chiwatenwa--come quickly! It is our father--a demon has entered his body and caused a sickness!" Teondechoren was panting from his hard run. Chiwatenwa dropped his tools and stopped the work on his nearly finished canoe. His father--his father whom he loved so well! "Will he die, Teondechoren?" They were running side by side. "We will chant to the oqui-- We will obey Father's dream-- If this is not enough, the magician will chase away the demon."
Chiwatenwa heard his brother, but his words did not console him. The memories of the magic practices, which most often did not work, left him with a feeling of hopelessness and doom, as if he were in a canoe with a split in the bottom--too many miles from land.