August 5

[Darkling Light}

Dancing Grass and I have made it back! I can see Gobetween sprinting across the Great Circle in my direction. In spite of the whispered gossip she is still dressed like an Antelope buck in my behalf. It gives such joy. I drop my things; Gobetween and I are about to have a collision.  She smells divine. While still clutched in a near death grip I see Moondog heading this way. His smile is delicious. I am glad I do not have to choose between them.

So much has happened since I left. Enclaves flying their colors stretch in every direction. Thousands of people are preparing for the Showoff Dance just a few days away. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if every Crone alive is here, even if she had to be carried on someone’s back to make it. And there are hundreds of clowns, many already antagonizing the young dancers. Moondog will join in when we least expect it. I could dance with the Antelope but have grown too old for the folly. Gobetween and I will sit with the Crones, give ear to the outrageous matchmaking that will ensue, and wait for the delicious kiss that at the end Moondog will plant on our lips. That alone redeems him in the eyes of the Crones.

But I am home now, held in the arms of those two who love me without need for condition. Neither has an agenda. While each of us must do for our people that which is dictated by our natures, we find neutral ground in each other, that place of perfect peace and passion. And when Gobetween goes off to the coast with her Greihound to do whatever it is Greihound do, Moondog and I will mourn the absence of her like children left behind by their mothers.

[Darkling Light]

A handful of joyous days have run by us like a river on a mission. The Showoff Dance begins this afternoon. We elders watch our three young Greihound torture themselves plucking out errant whiskers with pine pitch and shave grass. The same is taking place in all the camps. Not much in the way of fancy clothes is permitted; no hiding behind paint or plumes. The men and boys wear little else beyond loincloths. It’s hard on the homely ones, the shy ones, the ones perhaps too old to have much left to show off. But they will dance anyway, even Burnt Knife who hasn’t the knees for it anymore.

The Greihound line up and clowns come to harass the young ones, prodding them with obscene wooden phalluses and ridicule vicious enough to make the most seasoned warrior hang his head and weep. And I have to stand as an impartial witness to insure that the medicine is good. Moondog is a rogue, refusing to take part in it. I don’t think he ever got over what the Holy Antagonists did to him for years.

The day has drawn on and the dancers have lined up waiting for the fires to be lit and the drum to start. I can see them joking among themselves, trying to get a grip on their anxiety. It is a brutally difficult dance, particularly for the Death Clans and their small numbers. Big clans can put up wave after wave of fresh dancers over the course of four days and nights. That won’t happen for the Greihound or any of the other Death Clans. They will dance for days without relief. It is at once horrendous and yet inexplicably breathtaking. I don’t know how they do it. At least a hundred drummers have assembled to take their turns at the drum; once it is struck it won’t be silenced for the duration. Women and men of all ages, and clowns painted up like the northern lights have formed the containing edge of the Great Circle, enclosing a thousand who will step onto the spiral to insure that life continues for our people. Elder men step forward to make the prayers as the fires are being lit. They have been ravaged by the lives they have lived; backs bent, knees stiff and bowed, wrinkled beyond recognition, but they are dressed up in their finery just the same. Fringe and feathers stir in the afternoon breeze. Everyone, even the smallest child, has fallen silent, listening to history, listening to hope. The Old Ones words drift up and away with the smoke before they make the sign. Hide covered oak drumsticks strike the drum once. Dancers move into place, checking the scant attire that covers them. Some are sweating, there is no more laughter. The drum is struck again, thousands hold their breath. It is struck once more; last call. The fourth strike starts the first song and the Showoff Dance has begun. While the rest of us will watch, visit, eat good food, drink, and sleep luxuriously to that persistent drumbeat, dancers, young and old, will continue day after day. And while they dance old women will choose the mates for their clan daughters.

Gobetween and I return to a nearly deserted camp. Only two Greihound have been left back to stand ready as relief dancers for Burnt Knife and Star Stalker. They are helping Moondog dress up with some good hearted teasing. Bird Chant is applying black paint to the scars that cover Moondog’s back. I wonder how much blood he has shed for his people. He is wearing black and white striped leggings with a softgrass loincloth in honor of his adopted Bear Clan, and his old greihound pelt. Bird Chant has painted his chest with celestial events; comets soar up and down his arms. Finally Shadow Glass carefully slides a carved, wooden mask over Moondog’s head. It is the face and muzzle of a greihound. The petulant, passionate Moondog familiar to us is gone. Gobetween and I stand with them, watching the Greihound Clown making his way into the crowd. We wonder what spirit holds his intent on this auspicious occasion and hear some old women squeal; Moondog is already making magic. Gobetween and I must make our way too. Bird Chant and Shadow Glass are now faced with the challenge of resting as much as they can before relieving Burnt Knife and Star Stalker at some point long into the night.

While we catch glimpses of Moondog I can see Gobetween scrutinizing Longbow. I know why she does, I am watching him too. I hope for the sake of Clan Greihound we aren’t the only ones.

Days and nights have leapt forward like the scenes of a dreamscape and the celebratory feast is already at hand. The dancers shroud their acute pain beneath smiles that say they can’t believe they survived it. They try hard not to limp on their blistered feet and screaming joints. Their exhaustion is total, but they rejoice along with the multitude that celebrates for them. Watch how sparingly the dancers eat and drink. In a while they will disappear into the woods to vomit out their ordeal. Later they will feast in earnest, and with restored confidence set their predatory eyes on the best of Clan Female. This is when the Crones will clinch the final deals with the men’s clan elders. Such extravagant dickering keeps the Old Ones entertained while the young ones sneak off to the forest to make manifest their own visions of what matchmaking is all about.

Moondog, Gobetween and I, arm in arm, mingle, watch the goings on, and laugh quietly when we spot another pair of youthful lovers disappear into the trees. Some are not so young. The Crones feign a bit of fury, secretly knowing that a stout generation of warriors and poets will be sired tonight. The three of us are doing our best to make it a joyous night, trying not to think about Gobetween leaving for the coast tomorrow with her Greihound. Soon we will sneak away to our own love nest and pretend that Forever Now lasts forever.

[Darkling Light]

I have grown to hate these early morning departures. Moondog and I watch the Greihound load up and leave, taking Gobetween with them. It is necessary. They will make the coast in two or three days, driven. I can’t imagine the challenge after the dance days that have just passed. But once they arrive the Greihound will have the days and nights to themselves, healing up, telling their stories, and filling their medicine bags with the magic that will take all of us through the Winter Wait. Moondog and I will stay, tending to the Old Ones who, filling up our camp, regale us with the stories of their amazing lives. I know that Gobetween was torn; she loves the stories. The Twilight Women will be coming in taking up residence in their Death Clan encampments and bunking up with their Sacred Clowns. Soon the Moon will take the last turn of Her journey, pouring Her tired blessings into the Great Circle. When She comes again we will start a new journey with Her.

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