Chapter 1 - Caravan

Chapter 1: Caravan

North America, Early Spring, 13,500 BCE:

Chilled to the bone, Silver Waters pulled her animal-hide robe closer in hopes of avoiding another fit of coughing. Two days travel from the Great Ice[1] and Wawakin’s[2] cold breath still reached out to clutch at her. An unrelenting predator, the wind, slowly drained the old woman’s strength, but not her will to go on. Her dreams had told her this was how her life would end. Insistent, the wind would continue its pursuit until her last drop of life was gone. Just as obstinate, the old woman would fight it to her final breath.

With her free hand, Silver Waters held aloft a flaming branch from their campfire. The stars had not left the sky. Their radiance, together with the flickering glow of this flaming stick, provided scant light for her daughter, Bright Moon. She watched the young girl scurry from person to person, look over their work and give instructions or words of approval.

"I see you're new to this task," Bright Moon told a scrawny youth. "Use a travois[3]. You’ll need to make a frame with two poles, both longer than walking-sticks. Tie the top ends together, these will go over your head and rest on your shoulders. Tie a rawhide from here to here and make a strap to slip your arms through," Bright Moon whispered. "But first, wrap fur around each strap to keep them from cutting into your shoulders. To support the mountain of hides you have, tie more sticks, crosswise, near the middle and the bottom to support the hides. It will be easier to drag your load than to than to carry it."

Moving to the next person, a young woman just a couple of summers older than herself, Bright Moon hefted her bundle. "The fever's still with you. This load's too heavy for you to carry." Quickly, Bright Moon undid the bindings, slipped out a handful of furs and retied the remainder in a neat package. "I'll add these furs to mine," she explained and then stifled the woman’s mounting protest by adding, "Things will get better. You can return the favor when your fever's gone." The fact that Bright Moon's influence as a chief's daughter still carried some weight, at least with their own people, was currently the only positive feature of Silver Water's drab life.

A figure, hardly more than an outline in the dim light, stumbled out of the darkness, found Bright Moon and bent to whisper to her. "Two more of our people sleep the-sleep-from-which-no-one-wakes[4]," he said. In the darkness, a death wail started and was soon followed by another.

Bright Moon nodded. "We'll have to split their load between us." Having gone through similar occurrences almost daily since the night they were attacked, she spoke without emotion. "Put a portion over there. I will wrap them with mine when I finish here. Divide the rest between the others. Hurry or Long Tusk will cut our food rations if we're not ready when the caravan starts or if we can't carry our share of the load."

Bright Moon stole a glance at the horizon. False dawn[5] was beginning. She had to hurry. Soon, at the place where the dark meets the earth, the sun would peer over the rim of the world. Though it would barely provide enough light for them to pick their way across the rough terrain, Long Tusk would bellow the order for his caravan to begin. The sun would join them in their travels as it raced across the sky and then sink below the opposite horizon before the caravan stopped for the night. There would be few rest breaks along the way.

Silver Moon watched as her people hurried to follow her daughter's directions. Seeing them grovel, hearing their conversations, a great sadness overcame her. These remnants of Great Elk's once proud people had survived a night attack only to be reduced to pack animals for Long Tusk's caravan. Her people did not complain, but willingly followed her daughter's directions and hurried to repackage the groups of furs. Bright Moon, pleased with their efforts, knelt and began looping rawhide bindings around her own stack of pelts.

It was not what Silver Waters wished, but it was as it had to be. After the girl’s father, her mate[6] Great Elk, went into the-sleep-from-which-no-one-wakes, she became sick with the fever. It grew worse every day. Her daughter, less than three hands old[7], had become the parent and the leader of the remainder of their tribe, while she, the mother, had become the child.

I must give my daughter some glimmer of hope in this moment of darkness, she thought. “Daughter, I had the dream again last night.” Silver Waters leaned on her walking stick and smiled as she recalled it.

Bright Moon knew her mother had many dreams. Her hands seemed to fly through the task of grouping and tying the hides. Her mother had told the story so many times since the night the marauders attacked the girl knew it by heart. Glancing up from her work to return a smile, the girl teased her mother. “The dream where I get lost in a storm of white-rain[8] while crossing the Great Ice, fall through and have to swim in icy waters. Is that the dream you’re speaking about?”

“Yes daughter, I see great things in store for you. Crossing the edge of the Great Ice, it swallows you, but you find a treasure floating in a blue....”

"We just crossed the edge, honored Mother, like we had so many times in the past. It always seems to go on forever, but no one fell through. There was no storm, only this bitter cold wind which still chases us and brings sickness. Our people, what's left of them, suffer greatly; but Long Tusk and his people will do nothing for them." The bitterness in her voice did little to hide the disdain she had for the caravan master.

"This caravan, Long Tusk's caravan, just crossed the Great Ice, but, in my dream, you were alone and...."

Long Tusk's bellowing interrupted further comment. “Bright Moon! Bright Moon! Where are you? Why do you disappear when there’s work to be done?”

At the sound of the old man’s voice, Bright Moon grimaced. Gritting her teeth, she thought, yes there’s work to be done. And just what do you think I’m doing? “I’m coming,” she called dutifully, showing only a slight sign of irritation in her voice.

“Careful, my daughter,” Silver Waters warned through wheezing breaths. "The distance between hate and love is but one short step."

Bright Moon rolled her eyes. "Love? Him? Never! Not if he was the last man on Earth," she said and then made a sign as if to vomit.

Unamused, her mother waved a hand to include the remnants of their tribe scattered around them, "Only a few of us survived the attack and we lose more of our people every day. We were too few and too weak to survive on our own and had to become part of Long Tusk’s caravan.” Her mother dropped her raspy voice, “With your father, Great Elk, sleeping the-sleep-from-which-no-one-wakes, we are lucky Long Tusk agreed to take us in and look after us. Like it or not, he's the one we must depend on for food and protection.” She bent to grab the packages meant for her to carry and broke into a fit of coughing.

Bright Moon stopped her work and gave her mother a sympathetic look. My beloved mother is too sick to make today’s trek let alone do any work.

The young girl finished combining the parcels in front of her and then hoisted it and her mother's burden to her shoulders. "I must go now, Honored Mother," Bright Moon said and bent to pat her mother on the shoulder. "I will take your parcels today so you can rest. Take care of yourself and remember I love you."

Smiling, Silver Waters looked up into her daughter's face and caressed the hand on her shoulder. Her daughter staggered slightly under the load before she regained her balance and nimbly picked her way across the rough terrain toward her place in the caravan.

Rounding the end of the string of porters[9], Bright Moon could make out the bulky shape of the old caravan master. Even in the dim light, she could tell he waited impatiently for her.

“There you are; where have you been?” Long Tusk, hands on his ponderous hips, fixed her with an icy cold stare.

“Two more of our people have begun the sleep-from-which-no-one-wakes. I’ve gathered up the hides they carried and split them between myself and another, sir.”

“Likely story,” he snapped. “You and your people are weak and lazy good-for-nothings. You should have divided their bales long ago.” A quick flick of his wrist brought his quirt[10] soundly across her bare legs raising yet another welt.[11] "Your indolence will cause us a delay." He drew back, ready to lay another blow alongside the first when Bright Moon shifted her burden, sliding the packets off her shoulders and between them, a defiant signal she would not take further abuse.

Enraged, Long Tusk glowered at her; but, towering over him by a head, Bright Moon held her ground and returned his venomous look with one of her own. "My people have struggled to do all you asked," she said, "yet you cut their rations and treat them miserably."

The deadlock was broken by a tussle among the porters up the line. "I'll tend to you later," Long Tusk said. His eyes burned with rage and hatred as he turned and waddled off in his distinctive shuffle to quell the disturbance.

Her anger under control, Bright Moon shifted her burden in order to slip her arms through the bindings and carry it on her back. With the bundle in place, she walked toward her group in the porter line. The sound of the caravan master’s steps hung in her mind, haunting her. Bright Moon didn't know why.

Seeing her approach, Mochni[12], the out-walker[13] who oversaw these sections of porters, scowled at her and sneered, “You’re late again. What’s the problem this time?"

As an out-walker, it was Mochni's job to watch over a portion of the porters and keep discipline while on the trek. Out-walkers who handled the job well were rewarded; those who didn't were demoted... or worse. Mochni took her responsibilities seriously. She liked rewards and feared demotion. Her dark eyes set deeply in her pasty face, darted back and forth as she tried to keep an eye on everyone and everything.

“My mother is still weak from the fever and she needed my help.” Bright Moon offered, knowing whatever she said would be unacceptable to the out-walker.

Mochni made a face as she examined a pointed end of her walking stick, “If your mother is too weak, she will be left behind. She might be set upon by bandits or become food for the wolves who trail after us,” she sneered. “Long Tusk will not put up with her slowing the caravan down." The out-walker leaned in closer. Her scorn was evident in the hatred flashing in her eyes as she spoke. "He only tolerates her now because she is a Shaman[14] and has magical powers... and he wants to make you his woman.”

“Make me his woman?” Bright Moon shuddered at Mochni’s words. “He already has several women.” She could not believe her ears.

“Not as a mate, you fool; as trade goods!” In disdain, Mochni leaned over and spit. “Given the chance, he’ll trade you for animals—goats maybe–certainly something more useful than you!” The out-walker broke into a fit of cackling before suddenly, deciding her attentions were needed elsewhere. She left Bright Moon alone to mull over her words.

In shock, Bright Moon watched the out-walker’s chubby frame move up the line of porters, speaking to some and ignoring others as she went. Trade Goods? She was stunned. Long Tusk is planning to trade me for goats? I am a chief’s daughter. How dare he consider such a thing! Was Mochni serious or was this some twisted joke? Bright Moon was not sure.

From up the line, Long Tusk roared, “All right, let’s move out!” Satisfied his presence had resolved whatever caused the disturbance, he eagerly bawled the order to begin the day’s trek. The caravan—porters carrying trade goods, women carrying camp supplies, young children, slaves, herds of sheep and goats—started forward. At the same time, his scouts fanned out in several directions to look for game, water, and other tribes: those who were friendly and willing to trade, as well those not-so-friendly and should be avoided.

Alongside this procession walked Long Tusk’s out-walkers armed with heavy sticks, sharpened on both ends, their points hardened in campfires. These were used to prod caravan members, especially porters, along. Long Tusk would not tolerate delays. The out-walkers did not tolerate stragglers.

Long Tusk excused their actions claiming the out-walkers were a second line of defense. By keeping the caravan together, it would be easier to defend against attack. Beyond the line of out-walkers, along each side as well as at the front and rear of the line, marched clusters of Long Tusk’s warriors. "For protection," he said. "The first line of defense," he said.

Ever present, these moving walls surrounded the caravan. It took time, but Bright Moon now realized the out-walkers were not for protection. Her people had become prisoners. These two walls were there to keep her people from bolting.


The sun was high in the sky by the time they stopped for a short rest break. Hurriedly, women and children brought water pouches and dried food to their friends and family members among the porters. Silver Waters, a pouch in each hand, found Bright Moon resting on a fallen log. “Here daughter, take this to keep your strength up.”

She shoved a water pouch and a bag of pemmican[15] at her. Bright Moon accepted the water, took a long drink and then splashed some on her face and arms. She refused the food, saying “No, honored Mother, you keep it. You need it to grow strong.”

“I've already eaten,” her mother said and took the water back, hoping her daughter didn't see through her deception. Setting the container aside, Silver Waters resumed her efforts to get her daughter to take the pemmican. “You carry a heavy load, both our packs and more. You will need this to stay strong," she pleaded with her daughter. "Right now, food is scarce, but Long Tusk told me it will get better. In the meantime, you know whatever I have is yours.”

“I know our people are hungry while Long Tusk’s people are well-fed. That’s what I know!” Bright Moon snapped back. Regretting her tone, she reached up and patted Silver Waters’ hand gently. “I’m sorry, Honored Mother, but it’s the truth. I spoke to others of our tribe. You must eat and gain your strength so we can leave... or you could share it with our people. They could use it as much as I.”

"We are so few and so weak I don't think we could survive if we struck out on our own." Silver Waters confided and dropped her head in dismay.

Mochni's harsh voice broke into their conversation. “All right, everybody on your feet, it’s time to move on,” she yelled. “You,” the out-walker singled out Silver Waters, “get back to your group, you’re holding us up.”

Silver Waters stood up as if to leave and nodded toward the bundles Bright Moon would carry. "Are your packs still tied tight?"

Still seated, the girl twisted to look at the bindings. Silver Waters smiled and dropped the bag of pemmican into her daughter's lap, then turned to scurry off and join the women and children.

Bright Moon snapped around when she felt the pouch land. Tricked by her mother again! She could only shake her head and smile as she watched the woman disappear into the crowd.

Mochni glared at Silver Waters’ retreating figure making sure she was out of sight before turning to face Bright Moon. The young woman, like the others in her group, was just getting to her feet. The out-walker leaned on her walking stick and watched Bright Moon shift her pack to a better position and then fasten a pouch to her belt.

“Here you, what do you have there?” Mochni challenged.

“Some extra food my mother brought me.”

“In this caravan, there’s no such thing as extra food.” Mochni’s eyes remained fixed greedily on the pouch. Always hungry, she knew extra food would help quiet her growling stomach. “You have what you’re given so it must be stolen. That's why you're trying to hide it. Give it here.”

“No, it’s not stolen and I'm not hiding it. It’s mine! My mother gave it to me.” Chin up, Bright Moon glared back at her, thinking, If this food goes to anyone, I want it to go to my people and not this oaf.

Still leaning on her walking stick, Mochni bent forward to grab at the pouch. “I said, give it here, you thief!”

Bright Moon turned away, causing her assailant to lean in further. She caught her nemesis by the wrist and took another step back, pulling the out-walker off balance. Surprised, Mochni landed in a heap accompanied by a heavy thump.

Still holding on to her walking stick and now shouting obscenities, Mochni staggered to her feet. Hatred poured from her eyes. Bright Moon slipped out of her pack. The out-walker brought her stick up ready to strike; but Bright Moon grabbed it in both hands, twisted her attacker around, and pushed forward. Mochni went down again. Porters gathered around yelling, cheering, and laughing as they watched the scuffle.

“What’s going on here?” Long Tusk shouted as he and two guards pushed through the crowd. The porters grew silent and backed away, hoping to escape any punishment that might be dealt.

Bright Moon, her opponent’s walking stick in hand, stood over the prostrate out-walker.

“She stole food!” Mochni shouted as she clamored to her feet. “Then she attacked me when I discovered her theft.”

“Not true,” Bright Moon said. “My mother gave me part of her meal.” Nodding to Mochni, she added, “She tried to take it for herself.”

Long Tusk looked from one to the other and back. Making a decision, he looked Bright Moon in the eyes and said, “Strokes[16], two hands’ worth; one hand for attacking my out-walker and one hand for holding up my caravan.”

He turned to the guards and said, “Tie her to that tree and get her ready.”

[1] The glacial ice-sheet, in their view, an area that the people saw as seemingly going on forever.

[2] Their name for cold wind which blows off of the Great Ice.

[3] This is structure small enough for one person to handle. Generally made of wood in a triangle shape, it was used to drag loads over land, ice, or snow. A travois made it possible for a person to transport more weight than could be carried on the back.

[4] Death was associated with sleep, and is referred to as "the-sleep-from-which-no-one-wakes" as well as "the-long-sleep".

[5] False dawn, also called the Zodiacal Light, is a faint, roughly triangular diffused white glow seen in the night sky that appears to extend up from the vicinity of the Sun along an imaginary line called the ecliptic or zodiac. It is best seen just after sunset and before sunrise in spring and autumn when the zodiac is at a steep angle to the horizon. It is caused by sunlight scattered by space dust in the zodiacal cloud.

[6] To be joined together as in marriage.

[7] In this culture, counting is done in sets of five. One hand is a count of five; two hands are a count of ten, three hands would mean a count of 15.

[8] To distinguish it from regular rain, snow was called ‘white-rain’ as they knew that when it melted, it was water.

[9] A person, or people, whose job is to carry burdens or baggage

[10] A weighted, short-handled, whip usually made of braided rawhide or leather.

[11] A raised mark on the skin (as produced by the blow of a whip), also called a wale.

[12] Hopi name meaning "talking bird."

[13] A guide or escort, especially one employed to keep porters from acting up, running away or getting out of control. On occasion, they may be sent to catch runaways.

[14] A "medicine elder" (not always a male) uses naturally occurring products, such as herbs, to treat ailments/illness. To become a Shaman, a person would apprentice themselves to a teacher for 20-30 years.

[15] A concentrated mixture of fat and protein (usually meat) used as a nutritious food as a mainstay while on the trail or as a supplement when other food was available. Traditionally pemmican was prepared from the lean meat of large game such as buffalo, elk, or deer. The meat was cut in thin slices and dried over a slow fire or in the hot sun until it was hard and brittle. Then it was pounded into very small pieces, almost powder-like in consistency, using stones. This was mixed with an equal amount of fat. When available, nuts and dried fruits were pounded into powder and then added to the meat/fat mixture. The resulting mixture could be packed into rawhide pouches for storage until needed.

[16] Typically imposed on an unwilling subject, this is a form of corporal punishment which involves methodically beating a person or animal. It has also been called flogging, whipping, birching, and caning. Some specialized implements for it include rods, switches, and the cat o' nine tails.

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