Twilight Women

(An excerpt from Ancestral Airs: The Life Givers)

Spirit Chalk had left and Bird Chant moved naturally into position of artist elder. His new apprentice was a Dogwood boy. Burnt Knife's apprentice, Blue Ice, had disappeared. Moondog had been sacrificed to the Bards who had stolen him into their sacred way. He paused, allowing my mind to catch up to his words. The news held the sickness of terrible tragedy but I failed to grasp the scope.

Little Mouse, the Owl clan woman, re-introduced me to her consort Old Man Beard Lichen. The spirit revealed to us by Glitter Star was unrecognizable. Old Man Beard Lichen was unbelievably handsome.

It wasn't unexpected that Thorn Arrow had taken Moondog's place as elder dreamer or that he selected Longbow as his apprentice. A Bearberry boy had replaced Longbow as stand-by. But it was the loss of Blue Ice that triggered sweeping transilient change.

Instead of conscripting a new Greihound, Burnt Knife chose Thorn Arrow to be the apprentice that would move one day to position of Alpha Male. Longbow became elder dreamer and the Bearberry boy his apprentice. Then a Poplar boy had been discovered and became our stand-by. I suddenly realized that although Moondog had been appropriated into Bardic tradition I was still the Greihound Twilight Woman. Longbow was my dreaming twin and the Bearberry boy my understudy. He, not Thorn Arrow would be conjoined to Glowing Stone when she was of age.

My mind was reeling. I didn't know what made me assume I would just tag along with Moondog into his new life without any further commitment to the Greihound. I was wholly alarmed with the idea of dreaming with Longbow, he being far more attractive than with which I really wanted to cope. If I ever thought that Moondog and I would live some quiet, spirited life together, I was hopelessly naive. In fact, I held enormous commitments to my clan, the Twilight Women, and Death Clan medicine in general. I was equally obligated as Moondog's companion in the Bardic world and required to embrace the enormity of it. Moondog and I had to learn that magic and work it together as a single soul.

As a Bard Moondog's attachment to the Twilight Women would become increasingly more enmeshed, as these two groups were traditionally inseparable. No longer would he enjoy the singular responsibility to one dreaming woman but would become intrinsically involved with all of them. Destiny had dressed him as the Sacred Clown, consociate to Death Clans and Bardic magician in secret women's rituals. There was no imagining the designs Darkling Light or the Crones had on us.

In fact, our lives had become spiritual marathons. It didn't matter if our obligations were individual or mutual, Moondog and I would endure them together. And in doing so we would walk hundreds and hundreds of miles crisscrossing the Holy Mother until we had cloaked Her beauty with the mantle of our journey.

We emerged from the woods and could see the Twilight Women's lodge in the distance. Sun streamed into the compound and at its center a stout fire burned. Ringing its perimeter sat my clan awaiting our arrival. When we were in view they stood and faced us.

Burnt Knife smiled and I embraced him, a gesture maybe too personal, even inappropriate. Surprised and perhaps at first embarrassed his grin broadened and he laughed. I think he actually looked younger. A master of adaptation Burnt Knife no doubt thrived in the atmosphere of change.

Star Stalker took the cue and embraced me first. In spite of his passing years he had become increasingly more virile, his arms were incredibly strong and they held me tightly. I couldn't reach around his barrel shaped stature and imagined that a bear was crushing me. By the time he released me I was startled and out of breath.

Next stood Bird Chant. He gently took both my hands and drew me to him. Bird Chant had the clearest spirit of any man I had ever known. Utterly at peace, I had no difficulty believing he was an Immortal. He knew more songs than anyone alive did and had undoubtedly brought most of them from other lives. The beauty of his voice was heart wrenching. It was deep and resonant while it carried the melodic chortle of water softly moving over rocks in a shallow stream. I found it captivating, confounding, a conduit into Eternity.

Thorn Arrow; his beauty was stunning but his vivid blue eyes were remarkably tired. I thought I detected a few silver streaks amidst the otherwise shocking blonde that crowned his head and hung passed his shoulders. Unlike Burnt Knife the challenges of rapid change made Thorn Arrow look much older. Nevertheless, his smile was openly affectionate and he put his arms around me.

Shadow Glass was Star Stalker's apprentice. Like Bird Chant he exuded the peacefulness of an old soul. Change had not come to his life or Star Stalker's, they as steady and unaffected as the Old Granite Range itself. He smiled shyly but his embrace was warm and genuine. His demeanor didn't allow me to linger, placing me before Longbow.

He looked down at me. And as though fixated he probed the essence of my spirit. I had to look away. I was blushing! I simply couldn't control the attraction, making Longbow smile and Moondog petulant. Longbow and I were now the Dreaming Twins of Clan Greihound. Passion alone would make us a good match.

Last I stood before the three new faces of Bearberry, Poplar and Dogwood. All of them were incredibly young, fifteen or sixteen at the very oldest. Burnt Knife had certainly exhibited the prowess borne from a long, spiritual life. His final investment for the Greihound would be in the vitality of youth. It was an astounding thing unto itself that he not only found them but persuaded them to join us as well. None had even petitioned to be runners and had remained shrouded by their mother's clans regardless of their ritual conception. The fact that the Greihound had provided for them was never a guarantee that they'd ever propitiate. There was little question that Burnt Knife had remained intimately involved with them since their birth, studying their propensities. His influence was visible in each of their faces.

I was surprised to see Poplar blood standing among the Greihound. Their gentle protectiveness was legendary but so was their singular preoccupation with creativity. Although genuinely generous with their knowledge of poplar medicine they otherwise remained utterly involved in their own world. Poplar women rarely expressed an interest in anything outside of that believing their devotion to their work was the single best effort they could make for the benefit of our people. A Poplar woman entering into ritual death spasm with the Greihound was greatly unexpected. Moondog whispered that the Poplar boy bore a startling resemblance to the Wild Women of the Forest. He was small, dark, and had inscrutable black eyes. The depth of his instantaneous awareness of everything and everyone around him was uncanny and complete. And yet he was exceedingly polite and genuinely respectful without a trace of suspicion, traits readily attributed to poplar. He was called Moon Shadow.

Burnt Knife had made a wonderful choice when he selected the Dogwood boy for the Greihound. His blood contained powerful medicine that would bind him to our clan for life. Dogwood loyalty was mythic and probably enchanted. They were inherently protective and fully invested in the hopes of others. Dogwood devotion to resolving desperate Greihound needs was vital and this boy would stand by them forever. He was called Sings-in-Trees.

When I looked at the Bearberry boy I couldn't have been more shocked. He was Moondog decades earlier and his raw magnificence made it easy for me to understand Moondog's outrageous youth. Although forbidden to make the allusion it was quite apparent that Moondog and the Bearberry boy knew each other like their own souls.

Foreknowledge of the events that would take so many Greihound so quickly had given Burnt Knife an edge. He had known all along of the Bearberry boy's dreaming blood. Burnt Knife also knew that his tenure as sentinel would be brief and his apprenticeship with Longbow inevitable. Now the Bearberry boy was bound to me as well.

His Bearberry mother called him Sun Dog and had given him the ability to study another's mind. He at once captured mine and Sun Dog spontaneously understood the complex interrelationships I would have to manage. Unlike Moondog, who was often dark and volatile, Sun Dog was endowed with an abundance of bright and enduring light. This was the epitome of his mother's medicine. His only resemblance to the Greihound was his propensity for dreaming and I wondered how he'd fair among the predatory spirits of my clan.

The Twilight Women were there too, lined up to welcome Moondog and me home. As always they were beautifully dressed. Darkling Light stood among them, impatient, impetuous, and lovely.

The Badger woman, Tangle Root, had been sprung from a Blackthorn mother. Her voice was, however, pleasantly soft and husky. She had both the strength and confidence of her mother's kin. I understood she was astute at affecting magic in her own clan's favor, a talent highly complimentary to Badger medicine.

Currant blood coursed through the veins of the Owl clan woman, Little Mouse. It was an uncanny mix. She was from the Fens and Marshy Meadows, steeped in shifting realities and Bardic mania. Currant medicine belonged to the realm of women's mysteries and was well guarded; best known was their gift at divining outcomes. Owl blood had to have made Little Mouse's skill unprecedented. I had no doubt she had foreseen all of the events that preceded my standing before her now.

Raven-that-Sings-at-Night struggled to embrace me. She still suffered the loss of Snow Rose necessary for me to exist in her world. I silently acknowledged her pain and her triumphant ability to accept me. She had come from a Linden mother, a revered Spirit Handler who had wielded lightning medicine. She too was from the Fens and Marshy Meadows.

So was Sky Blue Fire, the Twilight Woman for the Wolf clan. She had been born to an Elm mother who was revered for handling the secrets of elm. She was a master at balancing strength and endurance with compassion. Sky Blue Fire was a magnificent Alpha Female for the dreamer of Clan Wolf.

The Lynx woman, called Splashing Star Rise, had come from Maple blood. Maple was handled equally by women as love medicine and by men as hunting magic. It had been given to every society of Clan Male for instruments, smoke, prayer bundles, and tattooing. Splashing Star Rise was in fact amazingly tattooed.

The Eagle woman was a hot blooded, fiery Hazelnut creature with streaming red hair and fierce green eyes. Every clan and society was dependent on the Hazelnut women and they held their secrets and their power close. I wondered how her mother had slipped from the passionate embrace of the Bear clan and into the talons of the Eagle. Whatever the circumstances I stood before the fruit. I was glad her dreaming blood bound her to me as tightly as she was bound to the Eagle. Hazelnut women were suspected of casting spells and peering uninvited into people's lives. They were also venerated for their wisdom and love; no doubt attributes awarded them by the Salmon clan with which they were in cahoots. She was called Laughing Moon.

And then there was Darkling Light, perhaps my single, favorite character among the pantheon of giants, the most uniquely talented and wholly anomalous individual I had ever met. Neither young nor beautiful Darkling Light's power was an all-consuming influence on each and every one of us.

Darkling Light had been sprung from that original spawn. Then dawned the one great age where ecstasy was eternal and infinite. Wisdom was inherent in sapient androgynous Immortals who scripted the theogony of our Earth with love, irony and humor. They created the duality in the universe, light and dark, summer and winter, male and female and a countless array of sacred twins.

Rare, cataclysmic events blessed us with an occasional earthly incarnation of just such beings reborn to teach us the deeper mysteries of harmony and bliss. As a mere mortal it was my privilege to know Darkling Light intimately with absolutely no hope of comprehending such spacious brilliance and shadow.