Saturday, July 26, 2014

Last Day

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As Raven cleared from those still fighting on the ground, a member of the opposing team came at him sprinting madly.  At the last moment, movement caught his eye and Raven ducked to avoid the swing of his opponent's stick.  It missed, but then the other young warrior sprang with a tackle that drove them both to the ground.  Raven's head snapped back and thudded against the ground as he lost control of the ball.

Panther turned to New Moon with a smile, “His head will definitely be sore tomorrow...”

 “Golden Dawn!”  Moon screamed as she dashed out on the field.
Panther’s heart skipped a beat as he swore beneath his breath and darted after his wife and child.

Already halfway across the field, Dawn darted and dodged as she headed straight for Raven.  The young brave was having trouble standing, obviously woozy from the last hit he had taken.  Dawn's face contorted with worry, and she yelled as she ran, “Get up!  Don't let the women take you off the field!”
Behind her, New Moon was closing the distance fast, with Red Panther catching up right behind her.  However, the braves playing the game had not noticed the young girl running onto the field or her concerned parents trying to catch up with her.  They were still playing with fierce determination, hardly registering that anything abnormal was going on.

Suddenly, a young warrior near to Golden Dawn slung the ball quickly to pass it down the field.  His stick swung wide after the toss, slapping the young girl across the back of her head and sending her plunging to the ground.

Raven had pushed himself to his feet by then, controlling his face to hide the lingering wooziness he felt.  The world still felt as if it shifted beneath his feet.  Even with his vision blurred, he saw as the young warrior struck Golden Dawn.  His adrenaline surged and he sprang toward the other player, forgetting himself and letting his anger show, “You would hit a young child?”

Panther and New Moon arrived too late to stop their near-son's actions of anger.  Around the field, bets exchanged hands as their focus shifted from the stickball game to the sudden fight.  Some placed wagers on how many punches Raven would get in before Panther intervened.

The brave on the field spun on his heel; he had not noticed that his stick struck the small one.  He only saw one of the other players coming to attack him, and intended to play the game.  His stance lowered and he swung a fist at his attacker.

Raven no longer thought of himself as playing a game.  Instead, he had let his anger overcome his judgment.  Ducking under the punch, he kicked at the other and then jumped forward to tackle him to the ground.  His knee slammed into the brave's chest, pinning him and knocking his knuckles into the young man's face.  He was rearing back for another attack when strong hands grabbed him under his arms and dragged him away.

Red Panther fought with his own emotion.  The two persons that meant more than life to him had just run blindly into a game of Little War.  He did not know if he were angrier with Dawn for putting herself, her mother, and her unborn brother in danger or Raven for his loss of control.

He took a deep breath.  He could not let Raven or the others see just how close he was to losing control himself.  Forcing himself to maintain outward calm, he yanked Raven to the side of the field.  With careful control, he smoothly struck the back of the youngster's knees and drove him to a sitting position, “Your passion shows in every straining sinew and muscle.  You will gain much in wisdom by resting for a moment to reflect on your action so that your future choices are well thought out.”

In a state of shock, Raven fumed at being moved so quickly from the fight to the side of the field.  He barely registered it was Panther who had done it, “That careless fool meant to do that.  He is one who has ridiculed her for the color of her hair.  He obviously looks for a chance to strike at those he finds different.”  With some difficulty, he tried to get back to his feet.

Panther held his charge's shoulder firmly, pressing down so that Raven thumped back onto the dirt surface, “You show the stubborn ways of a buffalo, insistent upon your decision.  I would be very surprised if you did not run from the herd in this state, so certain you are that your direction is true.”
At the reference to his childhood name, Raven grimaced sourly, peering at the one who had tutored him, taken him in as a son, “You have not seen all that I have seen.  Your eyes are clouded from your acceptance into this village.  I still know the touch of coldness that exists when there is no belonging.”

New Moon was holding Golden Dawn's hand as she walked toward Panther and Raven.  Raven felt the tension in Panther’s grip on his shoulder relax.  He knew Panther was relieved to see they were both sound and felt his own rage cool slightly.  It was easy to see his near-father’s pride in Golden Dawn.  This little girl that was small for her age was proving to be as tough as any boy her own age and twice her size.  She appeared only to be concerned over the drama that erupted after her own injury. 

Moon glared with a stern expression which Raven knew was for his benefit, “Our girl is fine.  She did not even cry after being struck, and she was up on her feet faster than you had managed.”

Panther smiled at his daughter’s next words.

“I am too old to cry.  But my head hurts really bad.”  She stepped forward and placed a hand on Raven’s cheek.

Raven noticed Panther’s smile disappeared at the next words she uttered.
 “I am not a baby, Raven.  But your concern for me makes me very happy.”

Raven smiled and winked at his Little Funny Face.  He did not want her to know how ashamed he was by his rash actions.  He watched as New Moon pulled Dawn toward their lodge then let his gaze slowly rise to meet Panther’s.

Others began to gather around them now.  From the whispered talk and a hushed exchanged of bets, it was obvious that most were shocked by Raven's outburst.  There was noted approval for Panther's stern response, as well as the speech used toward the young half-breed to admonish such childish actions.
The game still sped forward to the side of them.  Raven Who Flies To Meet The Clouds had effectively been carried from the field.  He ran his fingers through his hair.  He had not made it to the end of the game.  Because of his rash actions, he’d lost face and knew that cost him in his standing with the other braves.

He watched as Panther crouched down beside him, a pained expression on his face.  Panther would have to fix this problem somehow.  It was not the first time Raven came into trouble because of his inability to control emotions.  The inhabitants of Chota Town knew this as well, and he understood they would look to Red Panther to handle this problem.

 “Raven Who Flies To Meet The Clouds.”  Panther began, “You have done well here, and have learned much in the way of your Cherokee side.”

Raven had trouble matching that fierce gaze.  He realized how stupid his actions had been, and how it must look to the villagers.  His performance would reflect poorly on Panther, who still took responsibility for his development.  Though he often tried to keep the white man's custom of looking Panther in the eye as a sign of respect, this time he could hardly manage looking over the older man's shoulder as Cherokee custom dictated.  As it had been for his entire life, he felt caught somewhere between the two ideals.
It was James Fitzgerald that spoke now.  Raven knew Panther hardly thought of himself in that role anymore, and truly felt that Red Panther was his “true” name.  James was his alter ego, the other version of himself.  For the first time Raven considered Panther should have at least a small understanding of his own feeling of battling dualities.

Panther spoke now in stern English rather than with the fluidity of their beloved tongue, “However, perhaps it is time for you to learn more of your other half's ways and lifestyle.  I am going to send you away for a while.”
Raven started to respond, but James did not let him interrupt.

“I am going to send you to a school of reading and writing, tactics and strategy.  It will be in England.  You can come back once you graduate from their course for young men.  Hopefully, there you will learn to control yourself better.  Perhaps you will find yourself along the way.

“The school’s breaks are too short for you to travel home.  The Ladies Gaylord and Montgomery have always loved your visits.  I have no doubt they will have your room ready and waiting for you to visit on breaks.  William as well will look forward to spending time with you.”

Raven only nodded, actually feeling somewhat relieved.  Panther had taken him to England several times before, fully taking on the role of James Fitzgerald and dressing the other up as Raven Cloud for lessons and business meetings. 

In some ways, he looked forward to the trip and spending time with the grandmothers, as he always called them.  He enjoyed spending time with William as well.  They were very near the same age and as different as night and day, but they shared similar losses.  Will’s mother, Lady Gaylord’s daughter, died in childbirth and Will’s father, Lady Montgomery’s son, was killed in an accident around the same time Raven lost his mother.  Panther had taken Raven to England at that time, not wanting to leave him behind so soon after his mother’s death.  On this visit, he and William had shared memories, he of his mother and William of his father.  Through their time of mourning, they had developed a strong friendship. 

He actually looked forward to this trip.  Perhaps he would be gone long enough for the others to forget his foolishness, remembering only his strength and ability.  His face twisted with a faint scowl as his thoughts took a turn, “Red Panther wishes to be rid of me.  I am an embarrassment to him!”  The anger from before flared up, and he hung his head to hide his face.

Panther stood, speaking in Cherokee again to announce his decision to the group.  The village would all know now, and would see this for what it was.  A punishment seen as a temporary banishment.  The nods of others showed their acceptance of the idea, and many spoke of Red Panther's continued wisdom.

Raven glanced toward the lodge and saw Golden Dawn gripping her mother's waist, and holding back tears he knew she so dearly wanted to set free.  He could almost hear her thoughts; her most beloved companion was leaving her.  His own eyes threatened to shame him further.