The grizzly stood and sniffed the air, catching the scent of human. Roaring from the thick brush where it had been foraging for berries, it tried to sink its claws into Coyotl. The bear was almost ready for winter hibernation or Coyotl wouldn’t have been fast enough to step inside the grasping bear’s reach and stab it repeatedly in the heart. His knife gleaming blood red in the sun was long and razor sharp, deflecting rib bone, fat, and muscle. He ensured that it was dead, and found two old bullet holes that could account for the hatred and lack of fear in the fierce bear. Coyotl sang over its body, praising its bravery.
Caw flew down as Coyotl began skinning the bear. The raven went in search of Black Knife and Dancing Fox. They accompanied it to the carcass of the bear, helping with the skinning and fletching. Wrapping the best cuts of meat for the tribe, they built a travois to drag behind their palominos. They watched out for their enemies, the Tlazolteot, who would sacrifice and eat them before considering the bear. They were called filth eaters and preferred human meat over animal. The Tlazolteot were said to be in league with the devil; they had traded their souls to become shaman and shape shifters.
Black Knife was Dancing Fox’s father, he was a powerful healer and he was teaching her about herbs. Dancing Fox’s skill was near surpassing her father’s. They had found Coyotl near death from full body wounds, but his head was the biggest problem. His memory of where he came from was a mystery. The elders in the village could not make sense from Coyotl’s mutterings while he was feverish. He spoke in many languages, Apcuitl, Navctl, Athabascol, and their enemy the Tlazolteot. His strength came back slowly over time, but he remained a mystery in many regards.
The maidens of the Apcuitl went out of their way to see or help Coyotl. He was a handsome man, strong, and quick with a smile or joke. The children loved him. Leaping Moon seemed the only warrior to distrust and not like him. People thought it was jealousy over how close Coyotl had become with Dancing Fox.
“The bear almost took your head off, Coyotl. Your wounds have not had time to heal; you are not ready to hunt.” Black Knife said. As they stopped to rest their horses, Dancing Fox gathered rose hips and mullein. Black Knife watched his daughter with approval.
“I can’t remain in camp forever. My memory may never return, but my strength has. The bear meat will feed the people for a week, its death was meant to happen.” Against this logic, there could be no argument.
Caw flew down from its scouting flight and perched on Coyotl’s shoulder. He seemed to speak to the bird and the bird chirped and bobbed in answer. “We mustn’t be caught out in the sandy flats. We will soon have company,” he warned.
Grabbing what he could of the meat, Coyotl cut loose the drag poles.
“There’s no time for that, let’s ride,” he exclaimed.
Riding down out of the hills of mesquite and sage, the horses picked their way through the rocks. Swirling clouds enveloped the edge of the desert, something was heading their way swiftly. Coyotl pushed Black Knife and Dancing Fox up the trail; he turned and drew a silver metal rod from his tunic. Dragging it along the ground it made a burning smell and the sand wiggled and writhed, coming alive with energy. They kept going at a tiring pace for the horses.
At least twenty Tlazolteot warriors were riding like there was no tomorrow. They were killing their horses; flecks of hot white foam soaked the poor beasts. As they hit the sand, it became alive, shadow demons and dusty monsters pulled horse and rider into early graves. The vegetation turned black and the sky into a fiery sheet of flickering hues. Hideous screams echoed through the land. Three men were all that remained of their raiding party. Enough to carry the tale back to their tribe of blood thirsty cannibals. Pig Tooth, leader of the Tlazolteot would never stop until Black Knife’s tribe the Apcuitl were wiped from the face of the earth. After he heard the story of the living quicksand, he would know he was not the only powerful magician.
Black Knife rode on ahead, leaving Coyotl and Dancing Fox as a rear guard. Knowing Coyotl would protect his daughter and his abilities were far beyond any warrior. They pulled together a brush shelter to diffuse their fire, after first caring for their horses. To be on foot in this hard country could be the difference between a long and short life. Dancing Fox put some bear meat on to cook while Coyotl gathered wood for the coming night. As the sun lowered in the sky the temperatures fell off swiftly. Dancing Fox was sore from riding a long distance at a break neck pace.
“Lie down and try to relax,” Coyotl told her after they had eaten.
Caw flew down with several owls to keep watch over the camp. Coyotl laid out several scraps of meat for all his feathered friends. He knew they would warn him of any unwanted guests. He slept sitting up facing away from the fire so it wouldn’t interfere with his night vision. Their remaining trip back to the tribe was uneventful. Black Knife’s tracks were visible on the trail. Tall green blue trees rose out of the valley mist. In the forest flowers and silence watched the butterflies dance upon the wind.
Juan Two Bears and Leaping Moon were having a heated argument about a war party. Leaping Moon wanted to gather the warriors and travel south across dangerous territory in hot pursuit of the Tlazolteot. His plan would leave the village unprotected and open to attack from other enemies. Juan Two Bears, Dancing Fox’s cousin, warned against rushing off without a council of the elders. There were some for war and some for peace; this seemed like a time for more rational thought, Black Knife and Coyotl agreed. Coyotl, not being of the tribe had no say, which Leaping Moon was quick to point out.
“Coyotl has fought along side the Apcuitl like a brother. I say we adopt him into our tribe,” Juan Two Bears said.
“We don’t know where he came from. He has the unknown powers of a shaman. He speaks the language of our enemy. I say he is a spy and we should kill him,” exclaimed Leaping Moon.
Several of Leaping Moon’s friends moved to surround Coyotl. Coyotl reached into his pouch and spread open a cloak. He wrapped himself, the cloak expanding as he did it. By the time he was covered he wasn’t there any longer. He had made himself invisible. Moving away from the camp, he had Caw watch the proceedings and report to him the outcome. He moved to a special hidden covacha cave only Dancing Fox knew about. Coyotl needed rest regardless of his powers, crawling into a bed of antelope skins he was soon sleeping without dreams.
As twilight approached, Dancing Fox was able to slip away from the tribe and make her way to the secret cave. She brought jerked elk mixed with berries and herbs. Caw had alerted Coyotl before she arrived. He felt better, rested and alert. Leaping Moon tried to sneak up the mountainside barely avoiding a trap Coyotl had put out. It wouldn’t have permanently injured anyone, but it would announce their presence. Caw flew from the cave, with a swarm of wasps to attack Leaping Moon. Dancing Fox watched in amazement as the warrior ran swatting and cursing. Her eyes gleamed with laughter as he disappeared.
“The only way for Juan Two Bears to prevail in council, is if I go away for a time,” Coyotl told her. She knew this was right, but it didn’t stop the tears from flowing down her cheeks. He captured a tear and held it to his lips.
“I will return for you and your people when the time is right, I promise,” he said. This didn’t make it any easier for Dancing Fox. She stared into his eyes and touched his face as if to memorize everything about him. Coyotl walked Dancing Fox back to the village of the Apcuitl. He knew it might be the last time he stood amongst these good people. He also knew Leaping Moon waited in ambush for him. Taking his cloak from his pouch he disappeared, rather than hurt the young warrior. Three owls screeched and brushed their claws over Leaping Moon causing him to almost void his bladder in shame.
Coyotl left his buckskin horse behind. He was still not sure of all of his powers, but his journey in search of his past, he sensed would not be easy. Climbing the steep cliffs behind the village in the dark cleared his head. Caw flew guard above watching for enemies. He climbed for hours before pulling brush over himself to block most of the wind, he fell asleep.
The autumn days were warm as the yellow sun crept above the surrounding mountains, the smell of winter was in the air. The alkali desert lay east and south and he believed he must travel in those directions. Even though he knew Pig Tooth and his son, Shadow Tloz would try and kill and eat him. Then they would come after the Apcuitl. Shadow Tloz was perhaps more cunning than his father and Coyotl felt that he was better acquainted with the black arts. He reached into his pouch and drew forth a fist sized crystal. Looking deep into the glowing gemstone he saw the Navctl and the Athabascol tribes on the hunt. They were life long friends of the Apcuitl. He must tell them of the coming war and enlist their aid. Mule deer and antelope were being smoked and seasoned with chiles and salt and pinon nuts over a mesquite and spruce fire. An elk was being roasted and the women were working on the skins. Coyotl could see this in his magic stone, as well as the enemy the Tlazolteot.