The Pact with Evil
As Chiwatenwa and his brother approached the triple row of twenty-foot-high palisades which enclosed their village, they were greeted by the sounds of the customary howls and shouts which were believed to chase away the demon of sickness. Fires had been made close by their cabin, and men and women danced and ate and chanted wildly around them, invoking their charms to frighten away the demon which was housed in the body of Chiwa-tenwa's father.
Aonetta, looking childlike in her simple dress of skins pieced together at the shoulders and falling loosely to her knees, sat quietly next to her father-in-law. He was lying on a mat on the ground which was the cabin floor and was breathing heavily.
When Chiwatenwa entered, Aonetta began to cry. "He was stricken as he sat smoking his tobacco," she said.
Chiwatenwa knelt and bent over his father. "Your dream. Father? What is your dream?" His father turned his eyes toward Chiwatenwa. He did not answer.
Chiwatenwa closed his dark eyes tightly for a moment, and then opened them again. The tears stayed back. "Father, if you do not tell us what you have dreamed, how will we know what we must do to save you?"
His father answered painfully, "I have no dream." Teondechoren spoke up. "The magician will tell us the nature of his illness. I shall send for the one who is most powerful, the one who is called the master magician."
A picture of a grotesque creature with a hooked nose, beady eyes, and a twisted, hunched body came to Chiwatenwa's mind. To add to his appearance of horror, this magician kept one-half of his skull closely shaved, while the hair on the other half of his head was greased and twined around splinters to stand upright. Chiwatenwa shuddered, but he hoped that the ugliness of this most powerful magician would scare away the demon in the cabin. This master magician came, and the first instruction which he gave after he looked at the sick man was: "I will take a sweat."
The squaws immediately made a tent of skins within the longhouse and fed the fire until it was scorchingly hot. The magician stayed near the heat until his body was sweating profusely. After the sweat bath, he dried his body and began to streak his face and body with paint.
When his body was thus prepared, the magician slipped on a head mask. It gave him the appearance of a horrible unearthly creature whose face was a composite of distorted animal features.
Outside the cabin, the magician gave orders that now all were to join in and do as he would do. He picked up his tortoise shell, scooped out and dried and filled with beads to make a rattle, held up on a stick.
With a chilling shriek, he raised his arms and shook the tortoise shell rattle and leaped high in the air, beginning his dance. He jumped and tumbled and sprawled on the ground, still shrieking or growling all the while. The Indians of the village joined him till soon the very air seemed to vibrate with the din of howling voices and the frenzied thumping of feet. Chiwatenwa stood like a statue at the cabin entrance, his arms hanging limply at the sides of his massive bare chest. He watched the ritual, and in his heart the question tortured him, "Is this the way a man must die?"
Teondechoren was dancing as the magician demanded, but suddenly he stopped and came over to his brother.
"Why are you not helping to scare away the demon? Do you wish our father to die?"
Chiwatenwa hesitated. "I--1 am staying with Father. I am waiting to hear what his dream will tell him. Soon he will dream--he must!"
Chiwatenwa turned away from his brother and went back to his father's side where Aonetta was wailing softly. "My son--"
Chiwatenwa knelt quickly, bending his head to hear his father's words.
"Take my oqui from around my neck. It has served me well. It will serve you well, too."
Chiwatenwa carefully lifted his father's head so that he could remove the thin piece of leather from around his neck. His father's good luck charm was a beaver's tooth. He had bored a hole through the tooth and wore it around his neck, strung on the piece of leather.
"Because it is your gift to me. Father, I shall cherish the charm."
But in his heart, Chiwatenwa knew that he would never use it. He had no faith in charms. A few minutes later, a sudden silence jolted him. Chiwatenwa caught his breath in a suppressed sob. Then he said to Aonetta, "Tell the magician to go away. He has no power over life and death."
Joseph took the charm from around his fathers neck
Teondechoren was strangely quiet for many weeks after his father's death. It had been his decision to call the magician, and his father had died. He had used the wrong remedy. If he had called a man skilled in the fire dance, his father would have been cured.
He had been present at many of these festivals of fire, and he vividly recalled how the dancer could handle hot stones, bathe in boiling water and even carry live embers between his teeth--and never once get burned!
No ordinary man could do that. The more he thought about the fire dancers, the more Teondechoren became convinced that these were the most powerful magicians, the ones most capable of healing the sick. He--Teondechoren--would become great in the practice of the fire rites.
Teondechoren began by slipping away from the men of the village and going off to a secluded spot alone. Here he would make a hot fire and start his practice of how to handle flame and embers without becoming burned. But soon he had to admit that his hands and teeth were not fireproof, and he could hardly pretend that they were.
"A demon must help the fire dancers," he concluded. "Perhaps if I fast for many days, and then dream well, my dream will tell me what I must do to be one of them."
Chiwatenwa noticed that his brother was fasting, and misunderstood. "You must not starve yourself and become sick because of your sadness over our father's death," he said to his brother. Teondechoren remained silent. At the end of his period of fasting, Teondechoren walked to the far edge of the forest and making a mat of branches and leaves on the ground, he lay down and slept. Soon, he did begin to dream. He saw himself attending a festival of the dance of fire. Like the men of the fire rites, he, too, was handling fire, with no pain, no burning. All the while he kept hearing a strange song.
When Teondechoren awoke, his dream was so real to him that he found he could sing the strange song perfectly.
Yet, what did the dream mean? He had not learned from his dream the most important thing-- how to handle the fire. But only a short time was to pass before the secret of the fire dancers was revealed to him.
The rumors being passed around the cabin fires made interesting conversation. Tsondihwane, a friend of Chiwatenwa's, who was getting old and was most respected, had been the first to spread the stories of the strange men from France who wore black robes and wanted to live with the Hurons.
It was said that there was one Blackrobe who stood taller than all the Frenchmen and taller even than the Huron braves. The giant's name was Echon, and if the stories heard on the trading trips up the river were true, this Echon had already passed a winter living in a cabin of the Montagnais, the nomad mountain Indians west of the land of the Hurons.
The surprising fact was that Echon did not come to fish or hunt or trade. He said he had come to New France because he loved the people who lived here. He wanted only to show them how they must live so that after death they could go to heaven, a place where they would be perfectly satisfied forever.
His old friend talked many hours with Chiwatenwa about these tales of Echon.
"If he has news to console us at death, it would be good to hear it," Chiwatenwa said.
Shortly after this, a child from the old man's cabin became ill. Again the fires were lit, and the dances and chants were begun to chase away the demon.
Chiwatenwa felt helpless. How could he console his friend when he found it so hard to believe in the ritual?
And then a strange thing happened. He saw Teondechoren near the fires. His brother was dancing and raised his arms to quiet the others. As the sound died down, Teondechoren began to sing a strange chant. The tempo increased, his dancing became wilder, and, suddenly, he reached into the fire and picked up a burning ember!
His dance went on as he chanted, and he handled the fire with no apparent pain, and no burning of the skin. Chiwatenwa looked on in horror. Not his brother --not Teondechoren! How had this happened? For surely no man became expert in the fire dance unless he were possessed by a demon. When the dance was over, amid the howls of praise from the villagers, Teondechoren ran to Chiwatenwa. "Now I understand my dream!" he exclaimed excitedly. "It is the chant which holds the secret. My brother--believe me--the fire actually felt cooling on my body!" Chiwatenwa stared at his brother, his heavy-set body painted and naked except for a breechcloth, cool and unperspiring in spite of his fire dance. Chiwatenwa bent his dark head. "Teondechoren, there is evil in this. Give it up!" he pleaded. The air was pierced with a laugh which sounded inhuman to Chiwatenwa. With the chilling sound still in his ears, Chiwatenwa, clothed plainly in his undecorated leather leggings, walked away from the brother who was becoming a stranger. What was the meaning of life? If only he could meet and talk with this Echon!
His dance went on as he chanted, and he handled the fire with no apparent pain, and no burning of the skin.
Chiwatenwa looked on in horror. Not his brother --not Teondechoren! How had this happened? For surely no man became expert in the fire dance unless he were possessed by a demon.
When the dance was over, amid the howls of praise from the villagers, Teondechoren ran to Chiwatenwa.
"Now I understand my dream!" he exclaimed excitedly. "It is the chant which holds the secret. My brother--believe me--the fire actually felt cooling on my body!"
Chiwatenwa stared at his brother, his heavy-set body painted and naked except for a breechcloth, cool and unperspiring in spite of his fire dance.
Chiwatenwa bent his dark head. "Teondechoren, there is evil in this. Give it up!" he pleaded.
The air was pierced with a laugh which sounded inhuman to Chiwatenwa. With the chilling sound still in his ears, Chiwatenwa, clothed plainly in his undecorated leather leggings, walked away from the brother who was becoming a stranger. What was the meaning of life? If only he could meet and talk with this Echon!