STARbooks Press has delayed the publication of MEDICINE HAIR, the fourth novel in the Cut Hand series, until December, so I thought I’d give you a short excerpt from the book. The novel continues the story of John Strobaw (War Eagle/Night Sky Hair) and Matthew Brandt (Shambling Bear). By the time we reach the following scene, we are aware of changes in worldwide weather and atmospheric conditions caused by the eruption of Krakatoa on the other side of the globe in late August 1883. John’s brother-in-law, Captain Gideon Haleworthy, learned of this event via the army’s telegraph and passed the information along. The following is an exchange between John and a small group of Lakota men who have slipped off the reservation to forage for their families. This takes place in Chapter Two of the book.
Crow Hop motioned with his chin to the hill. “One of us keeps an eye out for a patrol.”
My eyebrows shot up. “You are renegades?”
Firm Foot shook his head. “Nay, not as you mean it. But the army declares any who leave the reservations renegade. When we leave, they call it ‘breaking out’ and figure we’re digging up hatchets to make war. I’m surprised they haven’t put you on an agency.”
“I have too much white blood for them to make the effort. Besides, my <i>tiospaye<i> is gone. Murdered over thirty years ago by American soldiers. Dragoons they called themselves back then. I’m a farmer, and that’s what they want us to be, isn’t it?”
Firm Foot looked down his nose. “They’ll not make a dirt scratcher of me. I am a warrior. The militia turned me into one the day they shot down Grass Dancer and my sister on Trickling Water north of here.”
Crow Hop nodded. “The white men are good at turning us into warriors. Not so good at turning us into farmers.”
“I have nothing except coffee and tea and water to drink, but you’re welcome to that. I can probably find enough bread and cheese and jerky for a meal.”
He accepted my offer. Fifteen minutes later, we all gathered on the porch, most of my guests sitting on the planking to eat and sip and converse. After more talk, it became clear they were on the hunt for provisions because allotments at the agency were slow and often short. I offered one of my steers. Even though this was why they had come, they remained seated. Lord, don’t let this turn into one of those long, protracted things where it takes forever before a blood gets around to talking turkey. Nature intervened to speed things along.
One of the younger braves grunted and lifted his chin. Most of us were under the cover of the porch and had to stand in the yard to see he was pointing to a sun enveloped in a wispy purple hue.
“Witchcraft!” someone muttered.
Crow Hop nodded agreement. “A bad omen. Something’s gonna happen.”
I spoke without thinking. “It already has.”
They all turned in my direction. Then Crow Hop walked over and removed the hat from my head. “Tell us what you know about these things, Night Sky Hair.”
Others of the group muttered when they took in the strange peppering of yellow in my black mop. Now that I’d stuck half a foot into the affair, I regretted it. The reservation schools hadn’t been very successful if I understood correctly, so most of these men probably had little formal education.
“I know why the sun is playing tricks on us and the moon is changing and sunsets look like prairie fires.”
“Pho!” Firm Foot exclaimed. “Tell us.”
“Far beyond Turtle Island, so far that it is on the other side of Mother Earth, there is an island the foreigners there call Krakatoa. During the last moon, a volcano on the island blew up. You understand what a volcano is?”
“It’s like the Yellowstone country where hot water shoots into the air and smelly mud comes up out of holes.” This from the young brave who’d spotted the sun changing colors.
“Yes, like that, except it springs from a mountain and is many, many times more powerful. It blew up – what they call an eruption – and threw most of the island into the sea. The explosion spewed a thousand times more dirt into the air than the Yellowstone geysers. And it changed everything.”
“How so?” Crow Hop wanted to know.
“It threw so much ash and pumice and smoke into the air that Father Sky waved it away to keep from choking and sent it all around the earth. And that cloaked the sun and covered the moon and infected the sunsets. We will see these things for a long time.”
“How do you know this?” Firm Foot asked in a rising voice.
“Medicine,” Crow Hop said. “Can’t you see from his hair that he has medicine? My father told me this man’s Spirit Dream foretells great joy and dancing and a bloody slaughter. A battle we will not win.”
“And the murder of a great man,” I said. “One of our own.”
Firm Foot regarded me for a moment before stepping forward to finger my hair. With a somber face, he announced that from this point on, I would be known as Medicine Hair.
“You misunderstand,” I said. “I learned all of this from the whites who have singing wires that circle the world. You know that Mother Earth is round, don’t you? Like a ball.”
Most of them nodded, but some put a lie to the gesture with widened eyes.
Crow Hop and Firm Foot put their heads together for a moment, and then Spotted Panther’s son walked up to face me. “I do not trust anyone who claims to be a medicine man. Better that he should demonstrate it and let me discover him as such. I now understand why my world has changed, and it is you who have given me this knowledge. It is as I said. You are Medicine Hair to me now.”
And so it is that John Strobaw, a young half-breed with some of his mother’s Scandanavian blond hair scattered among the black covering his scalp receives his last and most significant name … Medicine Hair.
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