“The first time I saw you, was the second time I loved you,” wrote Brook Grant in his diary. One problem, the reporter investigates the cutting down of the Golden Spruce only to find out that the legend is true. The ancient native prince trapped inside has been released and so has Raven. Yes, apparently, The Raven.
So when a native God steals away your heart and soul, how do you get her back?
Well, you hire a shaman who is more whacked than a hockey player’s slap shot and nuttier than a squirrel’s winter stash.
“Yeah, this is going to work, I’ll get my lady back and we’ll live happily ever after,” Brook added to his diary after banging his head several times.
“After being stranded twenty kilometers from the nearest road at the tip of Rose Spit, Haida Gwaii, and having to push his spanking new SUV a few kilometers along the beach before the tide came in and we ran out of booze, my first reaction on being asked to write a back cover blurb was, “over my dead body.” Some people will do anything to get an endorsement.” Susan Musgrave
Comments From Fellow Writers from the Authonomy Website
Author Frank Talaber is a master storyteller, with all that it entails. He brings us right down to the level of the characters and invites us to travel along. He shows us the world and lets us see it through his character’s eyes. And he’s done his research and gotten his facts correct too, which is a literary cherry at the top of this wonderful treat.
This is a good book, and also, I believe, an important one. It deserves to be read.
John Breeden II
Old Number Seven
Frank, Your descriptions are beautiful and characters are very vivid. The story itself is pretty sophisticated. You are a very talented writer. Best wishes,
This completely transported me to another place, a wondrous magical world where the stories of the Haida come to life. It’s like modern day folklore. And the writing is so vivid.
Shorter chapters, broken up at points of tension, could speed up the pace a bit.
Loved it. I’ll back it for sure.
Famous After Death
Books that capture a place or a culture are some of the best, and most important, on the shelves. And Raven’s Lament easily falls into that category. It’s literally dripping in Native American culture.
There’s a real sense of place painted onto its pages, and also adventure. It’s difficult to describe how I felt, a feeling others will share, as I read the posted chapters here. It was like I was traveling along with the colorful characters. I could see the river, the forest – feel the wind on my face. I have not felt like that since the first time I read Tom Sawyer.
Hi Frank, I read until the end of Chapter 3 to be able to provide you my thoughts along with my first impressions. Your book is simply transforming. I felt like I was with the characters the whole time. Your descriptions, the premise and the core concept of the book is very sophisticated.
You know how to weave a spider web for sure! I liked the way you injected your remarkable characters into the plot. Brook, Gordon, Prince Kiidkayaas, Raven, Georgina, Tom Wilson, Charlie Stillwaters, Chelen, Haida and Henry…they all added a lot to the story, and you introduced them in sufficient portions for the beginning.
Your writing style is professional and easy to follow. High stars and looking forward to see how the story will unfold from here.
Best wishes, Lucette
Ten Deep Footprints
Beautifully written with an impressive ability to write blending the old and the new. There is the modern thread to this with Brook having broken up with Georgina and returning home. Then there is the wonderful myth and folklore of the Haida. You manage to weave the two together along with your descriptions of the natural world. There is a strong sense of Brook having had an unhappy childhood in this chapter. A good pull to want to read more to find out what happened. I particularly liked your reference to Georgina’s new man having ‘pockets as deep as Niagara Falls’. There is much to like in this – Brook’s story, Chelen’s story and the traditions and myths of the Haida. You have a knack of getting the historical information across without it becoming text book-like. The sense of conflict between the old and the new ways gives this story texture and a real sense of time and place.
Glad I returned to read some more.
Read the first four chapters of Windsong. Enjoyed the poetic narrative approach to developing scene and character description and the expansive flow of the plot. The author has constructed the story in such as way as to engage the reader through his seductive writing style. I found myself becoming involved with the challenges the protagonists face. When this work in complete to the watershed 80,000 word novel length threshold, it will make for a cover to cover enthralling read. Highly starred.
Hi Frank I have read your prologue and chapter one and these are my comments.
I loved the poetic flow to your prologue. The descriptions of the coast and the forest were so vivid you could almost smell the leaf litter. The chopping down of the sacred Golden Spruce was heartbreaking. The linked myth about Raven was so well placed and realistic. I also liked your tackling of the subject of artifact repatriation from collections. A great tale, highly starred and remaining on my watch list.
The Ghost Shirt
Frank The opening diary entry is full of beautiful prose. Some lovely imagery set around the ocean. A real contrast to the end of this entry with the dying man. I like the way you have Brook struggling to get over the break up with Georgina and the mythical element all woven into one. It makes for a powerful storyline, intermingled with totems and legends of the land. Some great lines ‘silent faces full of voices’ and ‘ and for the first time in nearly 150 years, he cried out ‘ The scene when the Raven kills Gordon after he has felled the Golden Spruce is powerful.
You succeed in pulling together, nature and myth in what promises to be a wonderful story.
High stars and wishing you all the best with this.
Debbie ‘Speedy McCready’
Damn Frank — this writing is as tactile as a 1955 T-Bird. Very nice descriptions, good dialogue, a thinking man’s book but one that can be read entirely for pleasure. Good work.
Kenneth Edward Lim
Frank, How refreshing to see a book with Canadian content being displayed on an international venue. It’s been a while, and you’ve stepped up to the plate. You vividly capture the haunting beauty of the West Coast in your opening scene which offers solace to your MC suffering from lost love and counting the days since the loss. I can see why “Raven’s Lament” was well received by Harper Collins editors, and would like to congratulate you on such an amazing feat.
Kenneth Edward Lim
The North Korean
What a beautifully written book! One of the best I’ve read on this site. The imagery is breathtaking; the story flows easily and draws the reader in. Backed with pleasure and starred at the highest rating.
A Shamrock on the Prairie
– Raven’s Lament -This is certainly one of the more original pieces of writing I’ve come across on the site and I’d be hard-pressed to pigeonhole it into any particular genre. In turns, it seems to cut across literary fiction (very literary in the prologue), fantasy, thriller, and crime novel. It’s a rare achievement indeed but one that makes me wonder about marketability a little. I have absolutely zero knowledge of these things but I can imagine publishers might shy away from something if they don’t know exactly where they would put it in a book store.
That being said, what we do have here is a very imaginative and well written piece of fiction that belies excellent knowledge of native American culture in a most intriguing way. There are nice overhanging themes of loss (in terms of a relationship) and man’s relationship to the natural world as well. The fantasy element, in terms of the Raven, is well executed. Come to think of it, we also get into the horror genre a little there too….
The writing as a whole feels very polished – Those were just a few questions I would raise, from my know-nothing, novice writer point of view. Overall, I found this to be a skilled piece of writing. It’s been playing on my mind since I read it earlier today. I’m very impressed with it indeed. I’m going to think about it some more….
All the best with it,
Mr. and Mrs. Jones
Sometimes it only takes the first paragraph of a book to know you are going to love it … and this purely sparkles.
On our shelf.
Richard and Yvette
Frank, You’ve outlined an enticing plot in your synopsis to Raven’s Lament. I love your combination of poetry and prose. Your luscious descriptions paint vivid images. There is such a depth of meaning in your writing style which is a fine art in writing. Rated with six stars.
Titanic: Rose Walsh McLean’s Story
People came to be here then,
and they have been here since,
the ones who will continue being born here.
They were listening to myths back then,
and they are thinking of them still.
The land and the myths have grown together this way
from then until now.
Now almost all those myths are disappearing.
Shlawtxan, native shaman 1928
* * *
Muffled, incessant scratching rents the air.
The abandoned village of Ninstints lies hidden in the fog.
In the security of the cedars, a totem stands apart from the rest. Face gaunt, eye sockets empty. A man on the verge of dying.
Raven’s razor-edged beak gleams menacingly, his talons are wrapped around the human’s mid-section. The human’s hands clamp Raven’s throat. Trapped in eternity’s grasp, myth and mortal struggle endlessly, locked in boughs of wood.
A caw echoes, flutter of large black wings break the darkness.
The human turns and runs away,
there has to be a way out.
Sobs ring out from within the wood.
There is a wind that blows through these islands that blows
nowhere else. It blows in from the East in the fall bearing
the sghaay haw (spirit-beings) and leaves in the spring. It
gives this land its richness, its culture, its trees, its vitality.
Most of all, the spirit wind gives our people the strength to
return to the land, its old ways and to change with the new.
It gave us the spirit-beings, Raven, Foam Woman and all
that followed. Through the vision quests and the winter
dances we find our sghaay haw and reconnect to the spirits.
It is this wind that sings our song, our birthright.
The Windsongs of the Haida gives us our soul.
Charlie Stillwaters, Haida Skaga
Thick sap oozed from the Golden Spruce, congealing like blood. The death chant of Gordon Chatwick’s axe shuddered through the tall tree. Amidst the forest of varying shades of green, the Golden Spruce was unique. Its needles of gold were viewed as a hybrid to the scientists, a precious jewel to the natives. The oral stories spoke of a prince trapped within it.
The axe bit one last time, cutting past the cambium membrane. Gordon Chatwick paused to swipe at the sweat burning his eyes. The chainsaw had sweated the hard part; now he wielded the axe. There was only an hour of darkness left before the chance any tourists would arrive and discover what he’d done. But before that, the winds would pick up and send the ancient Golden Spruce crashing to the earth. His opposition to the continued raping of the planet’s resources would soon be complete.
Overhead, the tree groaned under its own weight, protesting its demise. Sap flowed down its gouged sides, sticking to Gordon’s boot as he moved.
Damn, this goop is everywhere. Never seen a tree bleed this much. Then again, I’ve never cut a Golden Spruce. Good. This will get their attention.
Gordon pinned the note he’d scribbled to the base of the trunk. The handle of the axe stuck to his fingers as he gathered his knapsack. Every step was hampered by the gummy sap sucking at his feet.
I got this stuff all over me. Better burn my clothes back at camp. I wonder if the public will let this damage go unnoticed.
The Golden Spruce cried in agony. Splintering cracks echoed as the wind increased
Gordon swallowed hard, the iron taste of fear clinging to his mouth. A former logger, he’d cut down many trees in his day, but this was more like murdering a living being. “Oh God, I’ve killed something beautiful.” He rushed to its aid, trying to support the groaning tree. Muscles strained, tears streaked the sweat on his cheeks. “What have I done?”
With his hands covered in warm sap, and the winds picking up, there was nothing to be done. “I’m so sorry.” Chatwick retreated to the bank of the Yakoun River, where his kayak waited to whisk him to the ocean waters of Masset Inlet.
* * *
Brook Grant stared at the ‘Dear John’ letter Georgina left last month. Her empty closet and dresser answered any questions he might have had about a possible reconciliation. To distract himself, he flipped through the pages of his journal again, trying to retrace his footsteps at Ninstints. The totems had intrigued him then, filled him with an ache for what was lost. How could the vibrancy of the Haida and their artistry be reduced to yellowed photographs consigned to musty books?
Reading his entries brought the realization he’d lost that feeling of living on the edge, like walking between worlds. Georgina’s departure left him feeling empty. Adrift, with no compass to guide him.
She was supposed to be his one true love. Soul mates. But somewhere, between the illusion of commitment and his belief in the relationship, he let it all slip away; including the romance. Just like the Haida at Sghaan Gway, where now only enigmatic gods etched into cedar remained; she was gone.
His diary peered back at him like the faces in the totems. Where had he gone wrong? Seeking the answers, he’d begun searching his diaries only to come across the memoirs of his trip to the Charlottes. Evocative memories, yet none bringing him any solace. How could you let her go? How did you not see this coming? Did you care?
He’d written, ‘There are nights on the West Coast, particularly on the mist-shrouded isles of the Queen Charlottes, when the fog rolls in so thick it mutes the background thunder of the surf. Nights, when if you look closely enough, wavering shapes emerge in the full moon’s shimmering light. A breath of cold wind brushes against your face and you shiver, believing as the Haida do, that you’ve been caressed by the spirits. Soon you begin to understand why they say everything has a soul and that we are anchored to this realm and to our physical bodies only by tenuous threads of waangaay, of spirit.
The Haida call this place Xhaaydla Gwaayaay, the Islands on the Boundary between worlds.
The three Watchmen that crowned most poles squinted out from under top hats of outlandish ferns, bearing coats of moss and lichens, staring with empty eyes and mute tongues. Eternally watching.’
August 12th, 2003
Brook set the journal down on his nightstand and shut off the light. He lay, eyes wide, his mind whirling.
The Islands on the Boundary between Worlds. Ninstints, the totems, their connection to earth and home. Returning to roots. Somehow that was important. He knew tonight his dreams would be full of ghosts. The Watchmen’s insistent, summoning voices, the round eyes, calling him.
Calling, but to what?
A line from a familiar song played in his head: only time can mend a broken heart. Then how do you fill a gaping hole in your soul?
Staring with empty eyes and mute tongues, the totems towered in his memory. Silent faces full of voices speaking to a quiet place inside him where he was unbroken. The place he needed to return to.
As sleep finally came, Brook remembered the peace of that Ninstints morning.
* * *
In the vanishing darkness, the sap from the Golden Spurce congealed into two body-shaped pools. Solidifying and expanding, filling with more substance than the sap alone could account for. The fresh aroma of spruce spread thickly across the glade, mingling with other smells that didn’t belong. Putrid, nauseating odors of decayed meat.
Shapes began to emerge in the muck. One taking the form of a young male warrior. The other was leaner, more avian with long black feathers fluttering in the dawn breeze.
As if the spruce sensed its ultimate demise, more sap gushed from its wounds. The sap flowed like a watery vein into the two still figures, imbuing them with substance.
Both cocooned forms jerked and kicked at the same time, struggling with the effort of leaving another reality and entering a former one. The feathered figure had been tricked into being trapped in the tree. It had to be the first to emerge. There was no other way.
The young male fought against the insanity haunting his mind. He’d spent many lifetimes trapped in dimensions not meant for humans.
A final cannon-ball crack shattered the morning as the wind gusted and the Golden Spruce was disconnected, for the first time in its life, from the earth. The umbilical cord severed, freeing the two trapped within.
The male’s lips parted, and for the first time in nearly a hundred and fifty years, he cried out. “I’m free.”
* * *
Some say Raven walks among us still.
Brook stared at the words on his computer screen, the same words he’d written in his journal eight years ago. Words uttered by Tom Wilson, the Haida Watchman he’d met at Ninstints.
The endless drone of office fax machines, ringing telephones, and chattering people, faded into the background. Brook stared at the line in the article he was proofreading. Raven. Raven-colored hair.
It was almost three months since Georgina left, and still Raven and the totems invaded his dreams. Which was okay, since it helped take his mind off her. Somehow, the serenity of Ninstints helped him sleep. Three months and still the emptiness tasted bitter like seawater on his tongue. He’d even chucked his job with the Toronto Star and accepted a temporary position with the New York Times, hoping that being away from TO and any connection to Georgina would be a good thing, like chasing wasabe with chili sauce. But, damn it, nothing seemed to ease the pain.
Brook shook his head and refocused on the article on the screen. Haida Gwaii. About the only thing he could put any real emotion into lately. The Haida were suddenly a big news item, even in New York. Recently, they’d come to the American Museum of Natural History and asked for the bones of their ancestors back. Bones stolen from their graves in the late 1800s when the Haida were dying off from smallpox, TB, and other white-man afflictions. The Americans were astounded at the audacity of the Haida, not to mention concerned about the ramifications for museum collections across the country. With the treaty negotiations relating to Haida Gwaii going sour as well, he was compiling a major news article, along with some lighter tourist pieces. He’d missed so much the first time he went there. Brook had hoped this article could shake the images out of his head, only all that shaking seemed to stir up more ghosts to steal at his dreams.
Some say Raven walks among us still.
Brook ended the article with the same words he’d started it. One thing he knew for sure: Raven and the totems were definitely walking through his head.
Maybe the images were calling him to Ninstints again?
* * *
As Prince Kiidkayaas cried out, nearby, a black wing tore free from the ooze. With a horrible sucking sound, Raven stood up on his two spindly legs. The prince continued to wail as Raven shook himself free of the gooey sap. Raven had landed himself into many predicaments, but being trapped inside a tree wasn’t something he ever wanted to do again. He hopped over to where the prince was now fighting to escape from the cloying webs.
“Caw,” he crowed. “So, you thought you could defeat me, silly boy.” He leaned forward and deftly tore into the prince’s body. A gush of blood spurted skyward as he yanked the beating heart free and flung it into the boughs of a cedar tree. Needles, still falling from the the Golden Spruce, fluttered downward, covering the heart. It spewed a fine spray of crimson droplets before lying still. The prince’s lifeblood mixed with the sap oozing into the folds of the cedar.
Raven watched the body convulse. Satisfied the prince was dead, he sauntered over to where he had flung the heart. He would devour it and the soul of its owner, ensuring not only his victory, but also gaining the spirit and attributes of such a brave warrior. Alas, the scattering of needles carpeted the heart. Too impatient to search, Raven cawed to himself. He didn’t have time for this. What he needed was a decent meal.
“No matter,” he thought. “I’ve won, after all this time. I’ve won and defeated you, brave prince.”
He snickered as he strutted back to his adversary’s messy remains. Robbed of their soul, they were quickly returning to the puddle of sap that had temporarily infused them with life.
As spruce needles continued to fall, he searched for the reason he’d originally become trapped in the Golden Spruce with Kiidkayaas. Squinting in the dim light Raven was unable to spy what he sought. His immortal stone … where was it? Did the prince realize how close he had come to winning? Raven shuddered. He’d almost lost to one of the people that he, himself, had created. What irony, he crowed.
Frustrated again, he straightened and sniffed the air. Late summer, the winter spirit winds would arrive soon. Only something in the air was different. The scent of metal ore stung Raven’s nostrils as he strutted around the base of the conifer. The Golden Spruce had been felled by human means. How grand the tree had grown since he and the prince had been trapped in it. How many cycles of life had passed? He glanced around, noticing the crush of moccasin prints in the soft earth. The tracks of whoever downed the tree?
Still, something hung in the air, something unnatural. First, he had to find the one that freed him before he told any others. A trail of crumpled vegetation led to the heavily wooded banks of the Yakoun River. The first rays of sunlight, brilliant in their hues of vibrant pinks and reds, tried to penetrate the mists. A slender canoe, with a lone figure, bobbed where the craft exited the freshwaters and entered the brackish currents of Masset Inlet. Raven’s immortal stone could wait; first he had more pressing business to attend to.
Time to reward the human for freeing me, he thought, closing his eyes. His sleek body shimmered; shades of white and brown bubbling to the surface as Raven shifted into a bald eagle. With a hunting cry, he lifted skyward, reveling in the sheer strength of his wings, before focusing on the odd-looking canoe below.
Raven dove toward the upturned face of the human, meeting his gaze, before the outstretched talons found their mark. Blood cascaded up the human’s throat as he went limp. Raven lifted both man and canoe skyward, claws ripping the canoe’s skirt away from the dangling body. The vessel tumbled to the sea. He made a large turn over the inlet and shook the figure once. His talons accurately penetrated vital organs, and another rain of red peppered the blue-gray surface far below. Certain the human was dead, Raven released him. As the body fell, he noticed for the first time the male was extremely pale skinned, not the darker hue of the Haida.
Lungs pierced, the corpse sank quickly. He was theirs now, in the realm of the Kushtakas, the sea otter people.
Weariness seared his wings as Raven headed towards the Golden Spruce. He glided most of the way; each stroke from those enormous wings a huge effort. Tired, why was he so tired? With a thump he settled on the branch of a cedar by the river’s edge. He closed his eyes and struggled to shift to his true self. Slowly, the feathers of the eagle flushed to black and the majestic white plumage on his head shimmered and darkened. Razor-sharp talons and mighty wings shrunk until he was Raven again. He yawned, as weariness sucked at his consciousness.
Raven’s eyelids fluttered as he fought to stay awake. He’d been in limbo for so long, perhaps that was what made him weak. Weak and hungry, but then again, he was always hungry. An unending appetite was his curse to bear.
Sleep first, he thought, as he ignored his growling stomach. He’d have to find food before returning to the Golden Spruce to retrieve his immortal stone. The light would be stronger then and it would be easier to find.
He steadied himself on the cedar limb and sniffed the air again. Something was definitely different, not right, though he still didn’t know what it was. Surely things couldn’t have changed that much since he’d last walked this land?
He wasn’t used to tiring so easily. The shape changing took too much energy. Shifting would have been as easy as picking ghals from the beach before.
* * *
Freed from his body Prince Kiidkayaas floated in wisps of mist and light above the carnage. This was his soul essence? Was he dead?
His heart landed with an unpalatable splat in the bough of a great cedar. Golden spruce needles rained down, covering the heart like a warm blanket, hiding it from Raven’s gluttonous hunger. If Raven devoured his heart before his soul could be released, he’d be part of Raven now. Kiidkayaas sent a mental ‘thank you’ to the great tree spirit.
The prince stared at the scene below. What happened? The corporeal body wasn’t real flesh and blood, but composed of matter from the spirit of the spruce tree. Someone, or something, must have released him and Raven from their imprisonment. Groggy, he remembered the long journey, the trials, the matching of wits, how Raven had originally tried to trick him, in order to get back his immortal stone. The stone — where was it? A fleeting image of it covered in golden needles flashed into his mind. It was safe, for now.
Weary of fighting, Kiidkayaas stared skyward. He wanted only to go to the land of his ancestors. His people … what had become of his people? He’d been unable to save his village and that could only mean one thing. He continued to gaze upward, troubled.
Where were his people? If he were truly dead, he would soon find out in the afterlife. He tried to lift himself from the clearing. Tenuous threads of spirit reached up from the cedar anchoring themselves to his spirit.
First one, then another … the threads wound around his soul. It was indeed too late. Prince Kiidkayaas swirled earthward, dragged into the confines of the great cedar.
Pulling away from the congealing fluid remains a figure shimmered into view. Pure white it stared at the remains and at the shattered cedar. It caught the sight of black Raven asleep on a branch overhead.
Clacking its beak the bird lifted itself on white shimmering wings and flew away, looking for food.
* * *
“Well, hello, Tom Wilson.” Someone spoke beyond the partition that marked the edges of Brook’s office.
Tom Wilson. Images of a native elder sprang to mind, long braid white against the blue of his denim jacket. What would a Haida Watchman be doing in downtown Manhattan?
Brook looked up, hoping to see the Watchman he’d met at Ninstints eight years ago, but instead a white man in a suit, bearing a briefcase, met his gaze.
He sank back into his chair, yawning. If the dreams of Georgina weren’t haunting him every night, native images swirling in his sleep were. Why were the images of Ninstints so strong? Why wouldn’t they let him go? Evocative eyes; silence in the mouths carved from the cedar, yet full of words; plaguing him with unanswered questions.
Grabbing his coffee, he called up the Associated Press website and keyed in his password to check the latest news stories. About halfway through, a headline snagged his attention: Environmentalist fells rare tree on Queen Charlottes.
The swig of coffee nearly choked him. Haida tongues chattered in his brain. Totems leered at him from the edge of his vision, pulling his attention away from the screen and filling his head. His heart pounded in rhythm to native drums.
Golden Spruce axed at dawn. Environmentalist takes the blame.
Brook scrolled through the breaking news story, scanning until he came to the section reporting the note the environmentalist pinned to the tree.
My actions are to express my abhorrence of the crimes that so-called experts are perpetrating on our environment. Wholesale logging, mass destruction of our forests cannot continue. How can those who travel to this tree ignore the genocide going on all over our planet? We, the people, must first express our outrage, and then take action to support our beliefs. Today, I am making a stand against the unholy clearcutting that is tearing our ecosystems apart and destroying the life dependent on them.
I apologize to the Haida for my actions.
Concerned citizen and Greenpeace member
So much for the treehuggers, Brook thought. But was this a Greenpeace sanctioned environmental protest, or something more?
Was it somehow connected to the treaty negotiations for Haida land claims settlements? A bit of a leap, perhaps, but he was intrigued enough to read further.
Shortly after the incident, an abandoned kayak was found between Port Clements and Massett. Owner’s identification sought. Stains on kayak, possibly blood. Results of investigations awaited.
His breath caught in his throat. At this point the two events weren’t being officially linked, but his reporter’s intuition said different. Brook brought up the RCMP website and navigated to the press release section, where he found one from the Queen Charlotte City division.
Investigation ongoing. Chatwick unlocated. Believed to be camped in area. It then reiterated some basic information. RCMP press releases tended to stick to facts and not possibilities.
Brook’s hand shook as he set down his coffee cup. Too much caffeine? More like too much racing through his head. Facts, let’s deal with facts. Tree chopped down, environmentalist’s note, possible bloody kayak, but no body found. He could turn up the home address of Gordon Chatwick. Was he native or white? An experienced kayaker? Brook knew from experience, the currents of Massatt Sound could be pretty brutal and the weather unpredictable. However, there was always the possibility Chatwick might have run into foul play. Suicide seemed unlikely.
Would the Haida do Chatwick in? There was no real mention of them, or their reaction, in any of the stuff Brook had found so far. Would they get involved? That wouldn’t exactly help the treaty negotiations. Or maybe they set the whole thing up in the first place? Make it look like a white guy did it and use that to weight the treaty talks in their favor. No, that seemed way too far off base. True, the Haida were once feared warriors and were proving themselves to be fairly aggressive in dealing with territorial and heritage issues. Still, that didn’t mean they’d go so far as to do away with a guy just because he’d cut down some tree. They were generally law-abiding people.
The prince, it is whispered, is trapped in a Golden Spruce tree up north.
The words tumbled into Brook’s head, out of nowhere. The words of the Watchman at Ninstints, eight years ago.
A strange sadness filtered through Brook. Could it be the same tree?
If it was, then it wouldn’t be just any old conifer. It would hold great religious significance to the Haida. But would they kill him just to avenge the dead prince?
The totem. The human and the Raven locked in eternal combat. Adrenaline flooded Brook’s veins. Intuition screamed at him. A story lurked here, but what? He sure as hell wanted to head up to the Charlottes to find out. Aside from the BC treaty negotiations and the repatriation issues, aboriginals and native militancy were hot news these days. Together with the articles he was already working on, it could make a great basis for an exposé. All he had to do now was convince his editor of that.
Too many questions and no answers. “Ach, ya, unt vhat makes you tink, big news story, ja,” Brook muttered to himself in a poor German accent. He suppressed a thrill. Too many things were coming together. His journal, the dreams of the totems, uttering ancient tongues, that as hard as he tried, he couldn’t decipher. Yet a part of him understood that somehow, he needed to be there again. There was no such thing as coincidence. Everything, he knew, entered his life for a reason. Only he’d no time for figuring it our right now.
Time for action. He missed that fire, the zeal of sifting through information and finding the kernel of truth. It was why he’d become a reporter. He needed to tackle this story head on.
He hit print and glanced at his watch. Plenty of time to catch a flight out of JFK to Vancouver. Meanwhile, he could do some more nosing around, lots of time to throw a few things into a backpack. Brook rose from his desk and headed towards his editor’s office. Stan could be a downright bastard and had given him a blast about how his work sucked recently. But at least, the guy admired tenacity, the balls not to take no for an answer and to continue probing. And when it came to digging up a story, Brook Grant was born with a pen in one hand, shovel in the other.
Besides, he needed to get away from the non-stop action of the city that never slept. There was something to be said for just being in his kayak at Haida Gwaii. Maybe he could begin to forget about Toronto, Georgina, and their life together. Somehow, he had to convince Stan to let him investigate this story about the dead environmentalist.
He shrugged as he punched the elevator button. Let’s see, the Haida were scheduled to head for Chicago to ask for more of their ancestral bones. And what about the angle of stirring up the Haida population in Alaska … up until now they’d been pretty quiet. He dredged his brain for every conceivable angle. Maybe the story wouldn’t amount to much, but then again … what if there was a dead prince trapped in the tree, and like a mummy he came to life, and did in Chatwick? Brook laughed at his own craziness. He hadn’t laughed aloud in months, and it felt good.
“Who dares, wins,” he muttered as the elevator arrived at Stan’s floor. Well he hadn’t been daring lately. And he hadn’t been winning.
Forty out of sixty Haidas who left Victoria
for the north one month ago, had died.
The sick and dead with their canoes, blankets,
guns, etc, were left along the coast.
In one encampment, about twelve miles above
Nanaimo, Capt. Osgood counted twelve
dead Indians — the bodies festering in the noonday sun.
British Colonist, news article June 21, 1862
Chelen Davidshaw held the damp cloth to her Grandmother Rosemary’s forehead. Rosemary lay in bed, drenched in sweat; she’d been deathly ill the last few days and Chelen feared she wouldn’t make it through the night. She’d called for her Uncle Charlie, a shaman, but he’d yet to arrive at her cabin just north of Skidegate. Rosemary had little use for Western medicine, as did most of the elders on Haida Gwaii, preferring to stick to traditional remedies. Chelen was certain whatever afflicted her grandmother was something only a ska-ga could deal with, and if he couldn’t, then he’d be needed to help Rosemary on her journey to the afterworld.
Wood smoke from the cast-iron stove filtered into every corner of the ancient cabin. The pungent scent was one of the things Chelen loved about her grandmother’s home. Fragrances of crackling logs, burning sap and cooking food, had comforted her as she’d grown up within these wooden walls hung with cedar mats, animal furs, and drying herbs. Aromas mingling together to become Rosemary’s unique perfume. Chelen rose to wring out the hand towel. The softness of a deerskin wall hanging brought tears to her eyes; she was instantly a child again. If only that were possible. Memories were all that kept her company as she maintained her vigil over Rosemary.
Chelen’s mother died when she was only seven. She’d drunk herself into oblivion, and Rosemary had elected to raise the young girl. Chelen had never known her father; Bethany never even told her who he was and Chelen presumed she was the product of an embarrassing one-night-stand. Eight years ago, when Rosemary became frailer and Chelen had turned twenty-one, she returned the favor and looked after her grandmother.
A knock shattered the stillness. The floorboards creaked beneath her bare feet as she went to answer the summons. It stirred memories of the times when she’d try to sneak out as a teen.
Like the rattle of old bones the heavy door groaned open.
“Charlie, it is good to see you. Come in.” “Sorry. I would have been here earlier, but there was a very important meeting of the Band Council. They had called an emergency session and wanted me there.” Her uncle’s usual smile was missing.
“What happened?” For the council to convene, it must be something dire.
“Someone took an axe to the Golden Spruce.”
“What! Who would dare?”
“We don’t know, but the RCMP found a note pinned to the stump by some guy named Gordon Chatwick. I’ve been asked by the Council to visit the site and investigate. See what I can find out.”
“White guy, I’ll bet.”
“That would be my guess. I was going to leave right away, but it was more important to stop by and see Rosemary.”
The news of the Golden Spruce stunned her for a moment, pulling her from her anxiety. “Yes. I fear the sghaana giidas have her in their hands.”
“Me, too.” Charlie Stillwaters walked over to the frail woman he called Mother. His hair, like Rosemary’s, had long since turned to white fire, but his was tied into braids underneath his pin-adorned Toronto Blue Jays baseball cap. A gift from a relative, since Charlie himself had never left the islands. Haida Gwaii was not only his home, but his connection to the spirits. A connection he never cared to break. Still, he loved to watch baseball on TV and the Expos were his favorite team. “I heard the screech of sttaw, the owl, just as I got out of my truck. A very bad sign, I fear it whispers her name.” He touched Rosemary’s forehead and closed his eyes. “Many spirits are gathered here this evening. Not good,” was all he said, speaking the words carefully, with his usual deliberation.
Chelen abandoned the lemongrass tea she had been about to brew, even though the clarity of thought it bestowed would definitely be welcome on a night like this. “What do you mean, not good?”
“I mean — ”
“Sghaana giidas, waagusa naay sghaana giidas!” Rosemary cried out.
“What’s she saying?” She held the old lady’s hand. Cold and weightless. The body seemed well on its way to becoming a husk that had once held her grandmother’s spirit. She was the only mother she’d ever known. Chelen choked back the tears.
Charlie leaned closer as Rosemary’s voice became even fainter. “She said, ‘Spirit beings, there I see the spirit beings.’” And then, “Giistuuiidjin? Where are you?” he murmured in Rosemary’s ear.
“Hlghahl, ttl gam geexa dii.”
“‘Dark, it is dark,’ she said. ‘They don’t see me.’” Charlie strained to hear her. “She grows very weak, Chelen. Death’s rattle plays in her throat. I fear her soul has begun its journey.”
Be brave, be a warrior princess, her grandmother would tell her. But the teardrops spilled over and splattered the sheets, grief drowning her grandmother’s fading speech.
“I’nk xhuuya, lla gaarundyaas, laagang lla skin dalaang sta qqadiigai. Ttl gaarundyaas an dii xaagai xudj xiagang guuda‘laa naay hlk’yaan.”
Chelen wrinkled her brow. She’d picked up the words “raven” and “wolf”. “Raven? What does that mean?”
“I think she’s hallucinating,” Charlie said. “She says she sees Raven. He walks past her and awakens the others. Wolf and Grizzly Bear spirits follow behind, on their way to the forest.”
“Ttl gaarundyass sqaati guutgi hinaan sgoannsin stlaay.”
Charlie’s eyes widened at the old woman’s last sentence. He squinted and whispered to Rosemary, “Sgoannsin stlaay.”
“Dalaang aagusa sghaana giidas, ttl tl’l aagusa kkiaaoga dii.”
Rosemary’s final words were barely a gasp as her head rolled to one side. Eyelids flickered, a long sigh escaped her lips, and the body grew still. Numb, Chelen stared as Charlie looked up to watch the spirit rise. She knew Charlie could see Rosemary’s soul mingling with others in the room, floating in the rafters.
“I’m sorry. The spirits have taken her to meet the Creator. Goodbye, Mother.”
Chelen gently stroked her grandmother’s hair. Tears rained onto the worn Hudson Bay blanket atop the sheets. Memories of everything Rosemary had done for her flooded her. “Goodbye, Jaatahl Qqaygaanga, Myth Woman. Thank you for being here and in my life when I needed you the most, when my mother was unable. I’ll never forget you.”
The cabin’s silence was disturbed only by the crackle of the fireplace, and the creak of displaced ghosts as the sundering of spirit threads filled the darkness. Myth Woman’s journey to the other realms had begun. Finally Chelen spoke. “Tell me, what did she say?”
“I don’t understand. She said Raven walks with us again, and he awakens Bear and Wolf. She said, as they walked past where she was concealed in the underbrush, she noticed their footprints in the soft dirt. She saw three of them, but they only left one set of footprints.”
“What does that mean, Charlie? That Grandmother would see Raven waking up the ancient spirit beings and them walking together, leaving only one set of prints.”
Charlie Stillwaters shook his head. “Huuk. Bad omen. It is not good. Not good at all.”
* * *
“I’d forgotten how gorgeous the view is from here.”
Brook spoke to an elderly man standing beside him. They stood outside on the upper deck of the BC Ferry, while the landscape from Prince Rupert to Skidegate Landing, Haida Gwaii, sailed past. The native fellow just smiled back. He’d probably seen the same sight a hundred times, Brook thought. Crisp ocean air, so different from New York and Toronto. He’d forgotten the feel of fresh, clean wind whistling through his hair, stirring memories of times when things were simple. He smiled. It was good to be alone and alive.
When they’d left, the day had been clear, but as they approached, the coastline of Haida Gwaii was shrouded in billowy white. It being late summer, whales weren’t crossing the strait by the thousands, but he did catch sight of the odd straggler marked a spray of water not too far off. Near the halfway mark of the journey, the shrill cry of a sea lion startled Brook. The creature poked its head up out of the water as if to say, “Hey, which way to Alaska,” before diving back under. He marveled at the daring avian acrobatic stunts of the Shearwaters skimming alongside the boat on their saber-edged wings.
The mists parted as the ferry approached Graham Island, revealing snow-capped peaks to the south and the occasional glimpse of the coast to the north. The islands had cleanest beaches he’d ever seen and the emptiest. Although, a beachcomber could often find interesting objects like glass fishing balls, chunks of whalebone, bits of teak and bamboo, along with bits of plastic and other flotsam. Lining the beaches he could swear he saw the looming, intricately etched totems of abandoned native villages. Illusions caused by the washed-up logs, although he did spy the whiteness marking the first landfall of Rosespit.
Magical Rosespit, where Raven opened the clamshell that released the Haida to this world. One of the places he wanted to visit this time around, to walk out to that point of land and its rocky beach where huge agates and crystals were reportedly found. As the ferry neared the end of its journey he glimpsed the brightly painted totems in front of the Haida Gwaii Museum at Qay’llnagaay, tucked into a tiny bay in Skidegate.
Brook took a deep breath of the salt air. Now he knew why he’d wanted to come here. It was like leaving the civilized world and journeying into another land, another time. The literal translation of Haida Gwaii was “Islands on the Boundary between Worlds”. Definitely a place of wonder, which was exactly what Gwaii Haanas meant. Being here was like being separated from the rest of the world.
Craving a coffee, Brook headed inside the glass-enclosed portion of the upper deck. A glance at his watch told him they were over an hour from reaching the Skidegate Landing. The ferry began to pitch slightly, the shallowness of the narrow Hecate Strait made for rough sailings, especially during the winter storm.
He returned to the seats with his coffee, spotting the native man who’d been standing next to him outside at the railing. “May I sit here?”
“Go ahead.” He smiled back at Brook.
It was as good a place as any to start asking questions. In his experience there was no better way to get to know the truth behind local events than to talk to the locals.
“Is Haida Gwaii home, or are you just visiting?”
The native looked at him, an enigmatic expression on his face. “Home.”
As he half-expected, the fellow didn’t respond with a question. If Brook wanted his companion to open up he’d have to volunteer some information of his own.
“I’m just visiting, myself. Brook Grant’s the name. I was here a few years ago. Went down to Ninstints. I mean, Sghaan Gway.” He made a show of trying to pronounce the name correctly, but failed on purpose.
His companion chuckled and offered his hand. “I’m Henry Richardson, and it’s Sghaan Gway.”
“Skun-gwy. Sorry, your language is so difficult.”
They shook hands.
“Only for the whites.” Henry softened his words with a grin.
“Yeah, I guess English would’ve been the same for you when you were growing up.” Brook sensed he’d already started to break through the natural Haida reserve.
“I only learned Haida five years ago, through the Band,” Henry continued. “Very few speak it. As a youngster, I used to speak my language, but they only taught English in the residential schools.” There was a faint note of bitterness in his tone.
“Coming here is like an adventure for me,” he told Henry. “I’ve always felt something special for the cedar tree. Once, when I was five or six, I went to Victoria on a family holiday. We visited one of the gardens. Butchart, I think. Somehow I got separated from my parents, and I remember walking down a row of saplings and at the end was a really sorry-looking tree. Its roots were wrapped up in a burlap ball, and the branches were hanging low with its needles drooping. The longer I stared at the tree, the greater the urge I had to water it. I really felt sorry for that cedar. So I found a nearby hose and dragged it over, stuck the end in the top of the burlap bag and let the water run until it started pouring out the bottom.”
Brook stopped. It was one of his earliest memories, and one he’d forgotten about until now. He never could figure out why he’d wanted to water that tree. Funnier still, was the fact that it was he who was coughing out his life story to a complete stranger, and not the other way around.
“My parents, of course, had nearly given me up for lost, and gave me supreme heck for playing with the water. I didn’t care. Even at that early age I knew the tree needed my help. A man who worked there said it was a cedar of some sort.”
Henry smiled and nodded. “That was the moment in time when you became human.”
“Human? How do you mean?”
“It is said by our elders that until the age of five or six we are not much different than the creatures around us. Then the sghaana giidas, spirit beings, come along and enter us, sometimes to stay with us forever, and begin our journey to becoming human.”
“Would these spirits be like angels?”
“The spirit beings are our guides, our helpers and protectors, and, some tribes believe, our consciousness.”
“More like your soul, then?”
“Yes. Later in life, around adolescence, we go on vision quests or winter dances, and begin to understand who these spirits are that are within us. We also believe that we do not die, that our ancestors are born again into the next generation.” He stopped and stared at Brook. “If we don’t recognize and honor them, then they can get angry or leave. The soul, we believe, is very light, like a feather, and can become dislodged from its owner easily.”
“Is that why some people become bad? Do they have evil spirits within them?”
“The sghaana giidas can, and do, influence you. If you are connected to your spirit powers, you can even influence others, good or not.”
Brook found the Haida beliefs and mythology intriguing. “How did you pronounce these spirits again?”
“It’s not often I’m teaching a white man to speak Haida!” Henry’s mouth betrayed his amusement, and not looking directly at Brook, he repeated more slowly, shaking his head, “Sghaana giidas.”
“Good. When you began to tell me the story about the cedar I could feel a strong presence around you. You’re one of the few white guys that I sense has a spirit helper or guide.”
Brook blinked. He felt like Luke Skywalker with Obi-Wan Kenobi saying, ‘the force is strong in this one’. “A spirit helper? Ah, you probably say that to all the tourists, but it’s funny you should mention it. At times, I feel as if someone’s watching over me. You must know the Haida legends?”
“Yes. We call them oral stories.”
“Sorry. What do you know, then, about Raven?” Uttering those words sent a shiver through Brook. Carved images swam in his mind, Raven and the prince locked in eternal combat.
“Let me see. Raven is the one that created us. In the beginning the great flood covered the earth for a long time. Finally, the waters started to recede and Raven flew to Rose Spit to feast. As he was walking along the beach, he spied a huge clamshell. Raven pried the clamshell open and much to his surprise, a number of naked, pink-skinned beings emerged. None bore radiant feathers or strong beaks like him. They had circular heads, and instead of wings, they had limbs like sticks. So were the first Haida released to this World. And Raven, you know, was many things: creator, protector, transformer, and trickster. He was always cajoling others to get food, since he was cursed with an unending appetite.”
Brook sipped at his coffee. “Raven doesn’t sound like anyone I’d want to mess with. He had some pretty heavy powers. And you mentioned him being a transformer. What’s that?”
“A transformer can change his shape, become anything, animal, or even human.”
“Perhaps you’re actually Raven that I’m talking to,” Brook joked.
“Unlikely. I’d not have sat here this long without convincing you to buy me a meal or several.” Henry laughed. “Although, I am getting a bit hungry.”
Brook chuckled. The fellow seemed easy enough to chat with. “I’m afraid they’ve already shut down the kitchen. Say, have you heard of the Golden Spruce?”
Henry’s smile fell away. “Someone cut it down a couple of days ago.”
For the first time, Brook detected anger in the man. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” he lied. “The Golden Spruce is important to us. Our oral stories tell of a prince named Kiidkayaas,” Henry explained. “He came from the southern tribes, and had survived a terrible snowstorm with his grandfather. Everyone else in his village died in the storm, and the two were looking for a new home. As they walked, Kiidkayaas’ grandfather told the boy not to turn around and look back. Soul loss is an ever-present danger to natives. The longing for a place or person left behind, grieving over the loss of a loved one, the death of a spouse, or the return of a warrior from battle, are all things that can cause soul loss. Kiidkayaas did not heed his grandfather’s warnings and turned to stare longingly at his former village. As he did, his feet became stiff and roots grew from his legs, transforming him into a tree. The needles of that tree turned golden, forming perpetual tears for the sadness of the prince.”
So, I’d imagine cutting down that tree would be construed as an outrage by the Haida.”
He waited patiently for Henry’s reply. Six golden spruce trees had been discovered on the Queen Charlottes so far. A genetic defect gave the trees too little of the pigment that protected them from excessive light and resulted in the yellowish color in their needles.
“To us, they cut down a real person,” Henry finally replied.
“And killing a living prince would mean what?” He hung on Henry’s next words, but he already knew what the answer would be.
“We would have to have our revenge.”
Brook was uneasy with the turn the conversation had taken. He needed to change the topic before he killed his rapport with Henry.
“On my last visit to Vancouver, I saw the magnificent Raven sculpture at the Museum of Anthropology. Carved by Bill Reid, I believe. He was Haida too, wasn’t he?”
Henry sat up straighter. “Bill was half Haida, yes.”
“Sorry to hear about his death. He was an amazing artist. These sghaana giidas, do you think they guided him in his visions when he worked on those projects?”
One project Brook had in mind was the canoe built in part by Reid. Loo Taas, the Wave Eater, was one of the few vessels in existence that came close to those ancient wondrous vessels.
“Unfortunately, I never met Bill,” Henry said. “But I know his resting place is by the old village of Ttaanuu, the birthplace of his mother. A shaman I know figured he had several sghaana giidas with him.”
“Several? Is it possible to have more than one? Wouldn’t that be like having more than one soul?”
“No, to answer your last question first, and yes, it is possible. In order to become a shaman you must control several sghaana giidas. In the past shamans were our religious or spiritual leaders, in addition to being our doctors. But there aren’t many around anymore, at least not many real ones. I’ve bumped into a few people at shows and stuff along the coast. They call themselves shamans, but they’re not the real thing.”
“Yeah,” muttered Brook, “I met some colas like that.”
“Sorry, a cultural thing from the States.” He had visions of a serene white-haired, bearded old man sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop, wearing a headdress and robe and saying, “Now grasshopper, today’s lesson.”
“I can tell you don’t believe.” Henry stared hard at him. “Yet something tells me you’ll stumble across one here on this visit and need his services.”
What the devil would I ever need a medicine man for?
“We are approaching the terminal. You may begin boarding your vehicles.” The intercom blared.
“Say, before I forget to ask, do you know of any good guides or kayak rental places? I want to explore the coast and it would be cool to go with someone who knows a bit about the islands.”
Henry stood up and stretched. “Go to the Haida Gwaii Museum and ask for Chelen Davidshaw. She is a guide and a very good one. Chelen knows the history of our people and this land well. She does kayak tours all over, including Sghaan Gway. She could show you around.”
Henry turned and left Brook staring over the choppy seas, occasional whitecaps breaking the unending blue. Mists still cloaked the horizon, allowing scraps of green and brown coastline to peek through.. The Queen Charlottes. The last time he’d been here, Brook had heard another version of Henry’s story, told to him by a Haida Watchman named Tom Wilson and centering around a roughly hewn totem at Ninstints.
He’d met Tom in the front of the totems on the shore at Ninstints. A native elder with his hair in a single braid that shone starkly white against the blue denim of his jacket. They were standing by the Raven totem and Brook gazed up at the man and Raven caught in immortal combat. He’d asked Tom about it, fascinated by the intensity of the unfinished carving.
“It was the last totem carved here. It tells the story of Prince Kiidkayaas and the Raven. The artist was probably one of the final inhabitants, before the people of Sghaan Gway succumbed to smallpox in 1862.” Tom told him. Then the Watchman recounted the story of how the Ironmen, the King George Men, brought small pox to the village. Prince Kiidkayaas went in search of the shaman of another village who could cure the disease, but instead he was met by Raven in disguise. The prince attempted to steal the immortal stone that kept Raven from aging. That is the image on the totem, the prince with his hands around Raven’s throat and Raven with his talons in the man’s guts.
The Watchman’s story flashed through Brook’s mind as he stood on the deck of the ferry approaching Skidegate.
What intrigued him the most was he didn’t know how the tale ended. How Prince Kiidkayaas become trapped in the Golden Spruce near Port Clements, far to the north of Ninstints.
Brook walked towards the off-ramp, deep in thought. Now he was more intrigued than ever by the legend behind the Ninstints totem. His intuition humming as he’d talked to Henry. There was a lot more here than the official reports alluded to — the situation with the Golden Spruce just didn’t smell right. A little more digging seemed in order.
* * *
Raven stirred from his slumber at the sound of angry buzzing. Similar to bees on a rampage when xuuadjii, grizzly bear, had broken into their hive and stolen their honey, only much shriller.
He flew down to where the Golden Spruce lay toppled over. The body of the prince had already vanished into the undergrowth, leaving a sticky residue. The needles of the spruce had shriveled up and many were littering the ground with a faded golden carpet. He remembered falling into an exhausted sleep after he’d transformed himself and thanked the pale-skinned one for freeing him. Odd. Never had a transformation left him so drained. Perhaps his long, imposed exile had left him very weak. Weak and famished. Raven clicked his beak together. He was always famished.
He searched for the immortal stone in all that remained of Prince Kiidkayaas, flinging leaves and debris aside. What had the wily prince done with it? A sniff revealed that others had been and gone while he slept.
Looking up, Raven saw the multitude of new tracks. Tracks that hadn’t been there before he’d taken his nap. How long had he slept since his transformation into Bald Eagle? One of the humans who left the foot prints, perhaps, had stolent his immortal stone.
The shrill noise broke his concentration. He stopped and sniffed the air again. The irritation in the background made it hard for him to concentrate, but something was definitely out of place. He had noted it before, when he’d first escaped from the Golden Spruce, but at the time he’d been occupied with ensuring his victory over Prince Kiidkayaas.
It was the silence. A great emptiness sucked free of all spirits. The trees were around him and he could hear the insects. But where were the voices of the sixhasttdaalgaanga, small birds? Or the animals, like ttsing, the beaver, and taan ,the black bear. Voices that were part of the forest, like the fish were part of the sea.
Just the annoying growling persisted, and that too was only sound, no spirit voice to accompany it. Raven lifted upward. Maybe the buzzing had something to do with this uneasy void. He would look into the noise, perhaps it would lead to food.
Clearing the security of the trees, he stopped beating his wings in shock and fell earthward, his heart in his throat. He caught himself at the last possible moment digging his talons into the bark of the topmost perch on a mighty cedar and stared in horror at the vision before him. How long had he slept since the prince had first trapped him in the Golden Spruce tree, and how long had he slept since he’d delivered the pale man in the strange-looking canoe to the sea spirits?
Devastation. Total devastation lay everywhere.
The Golden Spruce had stood in a green square reserve of forest, beyond of which lay nothing but stumps where giants once towered. An alien more acrid stench, like a volcano’s sulfuric breath, hung in the air. It came drifting with the hornet buzz from somewhere on the other side of the denuded hills.
Death, in its many voices, whispered its cold-hearted message on a heavy wind of desolation.
Everything Raven held sacred was gone. Heart pounding madly, he flew down to one of the stumps. He closed his eyes and prayed to Sruhlru Jaad, Foam Woman, and to Watghadagaang, the spirit of the wood-maker, and he prayed to himself, the Creator. This couldn’t be real.
The slopes before him formed an unending sea of red soil bleeding down to the ocean. The few remaining trees cried over it. Raven choked, as he sometimes did when picking through offered food at abundant feasts. Not even Raven could have conceived something this devious, and cruel.
He looked around him again. Where did sdlgu, the land otter go? Or jiijaat, brother hawk, or kkaat, the gentle deer? None of them could live here now nothing remained to support them.
Raven sailed down from his perch and walked around the circumference of a stump, circling the sharp edge. The acrid signature of metal remained attached to the bark. Metal and fetid volcanoes’ breath clung to the remains like barnacles to a rock.
Endless droning turned his head again. Raven spread his wings and flew in search of the source of this annoyance. Deafening echoes intensified until the very air vibrated. Over the last hill he found the cause and settled close to the men and beasts cutting away at the trees. A cedar crashed to the ground, shaking the earth. Several men gathered around it like wolves at the collapse of a stricken elk. In their hands, the containers of the angry hornets rose in unity in insatiable hunger hewing the wood with swirling teeth like those of kkung, the killer whale.
Yes, much had changed since Raven last walked the world.
But not only did he feel the terror of what he was seeing, he also shared the exhilaration, the power behind those little hornet boxes. Stripped of its limbs, the trunk lay bare. The sweet scent of wounded cedar dissipated as the workers quickly moved on to the next tree. In minutes, they did with those savage hornet boxes what braves would have taken days to accomplish.
Raven stared at the pale flesh under the sweat and grime. None bore the dusky hues of the people he had released from the clamshell. These looked more like the ones that came on the mighty winged boats. The Boston Men and the King George Men, ones who had come to trade with the Haida, just when Raven became trapped in the Golden Spruce. Raven hated what he saw. Tears streaked his face. He would go to the nearest villages and find food. Food and answers.
* * *
Ethereal gusts howled past, reminiscent of eagles’ chants. A hawk’s cry died on the stillness. The warrior-born closed his eyes allowing his mind to quiet in its panic.
He no longer bore the body of a prince, like in his former imprisonment. Raven didn’t exist here, but there was life. There were others, many others in this peaceful darkness. Memories of a former life, of his way of existence, cowered, shrinking away in this sea of dark firmament.
What he was or was becoming? The prince didn’t know, except that he knew he wasn’t dead. No body but a spirit that still reeked of dignity, of fearlessness, and of pride.
Was this the mother earth that nourished him? So hard to focus, he closed off senses that held no use here, yet there were new ones instead? Was this evolution?
He simply quit being and just was, his soul stole at the solitude, allowing prevailing winds to peel him through unending canyons of ebony. Floating, bobbing along; a seed of aura borne away on harsh breezes.
This way, that, the whisper of worlds adrift in interstellar currents, pulling at him. Evoking sadness, tearing, until, like bones baked to dust under a sun’s brutal gaze, he finally crumbled. Fingers of draft tore at each sundered section and stole them away. Scattered, flung into the sea of dark nothingness. Somewhere a tear floated, before being whisked away. A dream, gone.
All that remained of what once was, washed into the ether.