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GIA: In her tipi Yuha had been sobbing quietly for days. Wanica tried his best to comfort her, but there was really nothing he could do. She said, "Nearly a full moon has passed since we have seen our son. Has the Vision Quest ever taken this long?"

GIB: Wanica replied, "I will not lie to my own wife. Ten nights the test was for me, and no more."

Hearing this, Yuha let the full force of her grief wash over her, and all Wanica could do was hope she didn't blame him personally for going through with the ritual.

GIC: Yet there had been no choice, really. The Kuwapi were already the outcast dregs of the Oglala Sioux. If Wanica had denied the boy his test of manhood, he would be outcast even from the Kuwapi, forever a boy. And he would have never forgiven his father.

GID: When she recovered a bit she said, "Shy Bear's last memory of us was that even his mother had a stony heart."

Wanica said, "A heart of stone is part of the ceremony. There must be a...cutting off. There is no way around it. This as always been the way of our People."

GIE: He remembered how Shy Bear always called the leader of the People "Bad Heart Bull" and how even he had to agree. Tatanka piled upon Wanica daily indignities, until even his great inborn patience had been tested nearly to the breaking point. This day was no exception.

GIF: Chief Tatanka barged into the tipi unannounced and pointed a finger at Wanica. "You have brought no food into this camp for a moon, Hole in Cheek!"

"It is the fire," Wanica said. "It still burns the grasslands to the south. The animals are on the other side of it."

GIG: "Then take your hunters and go around the fire or you will be Hole in Neck."

"It will take two days' ride to find the animals," Wanica replied. "Then a day to kill and field-dress them, then two days' ride to bring the carcass back. The meat will go bad."

GIH: "The nights are cold now. The meat will keep. I grow tired of eating jerky. Go!"

Before the Chief left the tipi he let his eyes wander over Yuha's legs. She saw his gaze and tucked her legs under a bison-hair blanket.

GII: When Tatanka departed, Wanica retrieved the Golden Gift from the place he had hidden it. He had shown no one the weapon he received from Wakan Tanka, not even his wife Yuha. He knew that while he was hunting, nothing might restrain Tatanka from pillaging his tipi.

GIJ: Wanica and his hunters prepared their horses for the journey, and packed their share of the People's dwindling supply of dried meat. Wanica mounted his own horse, Kaleetan, and for the first time he pondered that his horse had a right name but his own son did not.

GIK: The fires were burning far away, even from the vantage of the Island in the Sky, but Wanica led the hunting party away south toward that small mountain to better survey the devastation and to see if the cairn they built to Wakan Tanka was in need of repair.

GIL: The party crossed over an abrupt line to the grasslands that were burned and ascended the Island in the Sky, which was entirely seared black. When they reached the summit Wanica saw that his son Shy Bear was restoring the stone he had once removed to take shelter.

GIM: He was still dressed in the ceremonial dress that Yuha had made for him, but it was altered in a curious way to fit better, and had been covered in a riot of colored beads that was clearly no artifice of the Kuwapi, though it echoed the craftsmanship of the People.

GIN: Leliel stood next to him. Wanica and the hunters found har to be striking. Although sha appeared to be a young woman of the People sha was a full head taller than the tallest of any of them. Sha, too, was attired in something much like Jashen's raiment, but more simple.

GIO: Before Jashen sealed the cairn, Wanica saw that the white dome was still contained within. A tame bison was also trodding slowly on the summit of the Island in the Sky amid the blackened ground, wondering perhaps if there was any green thing lying around to eat.

GIP: Wanica searched his son's face and saw that he seemed a little taller himself, and a little older. He was so overjoyed to see him that he forgot he took away his name and turned him out into the night. "Shy Bear!" he exclaimed, and ran toward the boy to embrace him.

GIQ: But Jashen was having none of that. His body language halted his father at a single pace. He extended his hand and gripped his father by the lower arm near his elbow. "You forget yourself, Father. No more am I to be called Shy Bear. My name of manhood is Jashen.

GIR: I have brought my wife Princess Leliel, who is the daughter of Wakan Tanka and Queen Lilith. Her father has commanded us to return to the People and live among them for a season, but there will be much coming and going between here and his lodge in the sky."

GIS: Leliel bowed to Wanica with respect and said, haltingly, using the tongue of the People that Jashen had instructed har over the course of two years, "I greet you, Wanica, and convey the command of my father that the Kuwapi people should ever dwell near this place."

GIT:: Wanica was rendered speechless by the words of Jashen and Leliel at first. He was not displeased. Yet immediately he saw that was a problem. "Chief Tatanka will never believe that a stranger, a woman no less, communicates to him the will of Wakan Tanka."

GIU: Jashen longed to tell his father Bad Heart Bull would not be an obstacle for much longer, but he had been urged by Chief Yeshua to say nothing of the matter, lest events were diverted to a path that sealed the Chief in place rather than rushed him to his fate.

GIV: Wanica realized there was another problem with what Leliel claimed. He said, "The People must always go where the animals go, lest we starve. The People will never believe the will of Wakan Tanka is to dig our own graves in this place and lie down in them."

GIW: Jashen answered for Leliel. "The holy one whom the Sioux have named Wakan Tanka has sworn to make the Kuwapi thrive. He has many servants, as even I now am, and Father, do I not speak truth to say he has already shown his favor to you in a way you alone know?"

GIX: Then all doubt fled from Wanica, as he realized Jashen was speaking of the Golden Gift in a way that revealed he had met the one who gave it. Wanica said, "My heart leaps to see you again, son, if you can forgive me for thrusting you out of the presence of Yuha."

GIY: Jashen replied, "And it is good to see you again Father. I bear no ill feelings toward you for sending me out from your tipi, as I would never have found Leliel otherwise, nor been given the name of manhood, and many other gifts that would be long in the telling."

GIZ: "Your mother will be as joyful as I am to see you again, son, all the more so that you bring her a beautiful daughter. We had both thought you to be dead. The moon has made a full cirle in the sky since you left. And she will wonder about your new breastplate."

GJA: Jashen said nothing of the two years he spent in heaven, time enough to come to love Leliel and make har his wife. He saw that the eyes of Wanica's hunters drifted to the animal that came with him said, "This is the gift of Chief Yeshua, the son of the Sky Father."

GJB: Wanica's hunters drew back their bows to kill the animal Jashen described as a gift, but Wanica said, "Hold!" and the men lowered their aim. "If we kill this animal and take its meat back to camp, Chief Bad Heart Bull will disfigure this gift of the Great Spirit.

GJC: Tatanka will add the horns of this animal to all his other false trophies of stolen merit. But there is another way." Wanica reached into his raiment close to his heart and withdrew the Golden Gift. The black shaft licked the whole head of the bison to nothing.

GJD: His hunters were stunned at the sight. Jashen, who knew the whole history of the Golden Gift, already knew it had been given into the hands of his father. Leliel's eyes brimmed with moisture at a memory of har mother Lilith, who had also possessed it once.

GJE: In the camp of the People word spread that the hunting party was arriving days before they were expected, and it was feared they would bring news that it was impossible to reach the roaming herds by reason of the fire. Yuha was among the women who went to greet them.

GJF: What she saw brought her joy beyond measure, such that she, too, forgot herself and cried out the boyhood name of her son, "Shy Bear!" which she repeated many times as both mother and son embraced. "Jashen, mother," he told her gently. "I am to be called Jashen."

GJG: Yuha's hands roamed over her son as she tried to assure herself he was not a spirit. When they stopped at something hard at the back of Jashen's neck he gently took his mother's hands in his own and stood apart, so that she could see what had been added to her beadwork.

GJH: Her eyes then turned to Leliel, who stood over even the tallest men in the camp, wearing something like a ceremonial dress of har own but skillfully fitted for har curves. "Mother," said Jashen, "this is my wife, Leliel, who is a princess among har people."

GJI: "I greet Yuha, mother of my husband," Leliel said. "In the lodge of my father not a day passed that Jashen did not speak of both you and Wanica with a love that could not be hidden. It was not long before his love for me could not be hidden, much though he tried!"

GJJ: The return of Wanica with his hunters was news big enough, the return of the boy Shy Bear as the man Jashen after a full moon was bigger news, and that he brought a giantess of a wife was the biggest news of all, but Chief Tatanka cared little for all these things.

GJK: That evening, when the People were sharing their communal meal once more, the Chief wondered why his women did not bring the horns of the bison to add to his war regalia as before. He said no words of gratitude to Wanica for bringing the kill in one day rather than five.

GJL: Instead the missing horns occupied his mind and pushed out all else. He waxed more and more angry, until he flat out accused Wanica of hiding the bison's head. Wanica said nothing in reply, but he did not take his eyes away from the Chief after this accusation was made.

GJM: Tananka, already wroth, grew infuriated at the defiance. The leader of the People took out his knife once more. It was an genuine steel blade he claimed he took as war booty from a white trapper, but he really took it from a corpse he had stumbled upon by mere chance.

GJN: It was, at any rate, the only such blade among the People. "This will loosen your tongue, Hole In Heart!" he cried, and he moved toward Wanica, fully expecting the hunter to run as he had done so many times before. But Wanica knew he had the favor of the Sky Father.

GJO: So Wanica stood his ground fearlessly, which unnerved the Chief. Everyone saw him hesitate. The Chief lost precious 'face' with each passing heartbeat, and he knew it. Wanica calmly reached into a hidden pocket in his leather garments and withdrew the Golden Gift.

GJP: Tatanka's rage boiled over. He closed the gap between himself and Wanica but he never reached striking distance. At the Island in the Sky Wanica only took the animal's head, offering it to the Sky Father rather than allowing it to be dishonored by Tatanka.

GJQ: But here before the eyes of all the Kuwapi he took away the Chief, the whole Chief, and nothing but the Chief, all the way down to his moccasins, leaving the very ground he stood upon untouched. The People fell into a state of shock and greatly feared Wanica.

GJR: The group of men who had been with Wanica on the recent hunt had seen the Golden Gift in action, but the rest of the People had never seen such an obvious and deadly display of real magic. Even his own squaw Yuha was afraid. Even so she came to stand at Wanica's side.

GJS: To Wanica's left stood his son Jashen, arrayed in the fine ceremonial dress that had been painstakingly embellished by artisans in Nyduly Wood over the course of two years. And towering over them all at nearly seven feet in height was his wife, the Ophan Leliel.

GIT: "I sent the Chief to answer to the Great Spirit," Wanica said in a loud voice, and none of the Kuwapi save Jashen doubted he had done precisely what he said. "I will lead the People now." Wanica crossed his arms regally, with the Golden Gift cradled in one of his hands.

GJU: One by one the hunters, warriors, and braves of the Kuwapi sank to their knees before Wanica, with hands open to show they carry no blade. Their wives, the widows, and unmarried girls of the People hit their knees before Wanica and before his standing family as well.

GIV: Wanica then gave his first command as the new Chief. "In the morning we will decamp and march south, to dwell at the Island in the Sky, near the place where the Great Spirit came and made himself known to us and where my boy Shy Bear came back to us as the man Jashen."

GJW: So it came to be that the Kuwapi, first among all of the original inhabitants of the North American high plains and the only ones to do so of their own free will, ceased to be a wandering people and awaited the coming of the followers of Mark Lange.

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Strangers In Paradise