Rites of Manhood

The rolling foothills of what would someday become Eastern Idaho were covered with the light green of new growth.  The sage and the aspens were covered with buds of the new season.  The thicker stands of pines and spruce were showing evidence of spring too, in the soft, new needs covering their branches even as the sticky sap ran down the trunks.

Dry Otter held the shaft of a small spear to the pitch, before affixing a wicked looking bone point to the split end, then wrapping it in cordage made of dried and braided deer sinew.  He could smell the smoke from the tribe’s fires upwind of where he stood.  Someone was cooking a stew made of the very deer whose sinews he now used, with cattail roots, wild onions, and other herbs just recently harvested.

The tribe had weathered another winter, and came out into the new year having only lost two old ones, and an infant in birth.  It was as good an outcome of the cold season as anyone could ask for, and the elders wished to give thanks with a tribal hunt.

A herd of bison, sighted two days prior by a small party, was slowly moving towards the next valley over from where the tribe spent the winter.  Old Three Eagles, one of the tribe’s elders, and a man of great medicine, decreed that a hunt should be made, and Dry Otter himself could have the chance to finish the Rites of Manhood begun at the end of the dying season.  The young man was giddy with nervous excitement.

The responsibility would fall to him to lead the hunt.  For the job at hand, he made new spears for his Atlatl, a combination of spear and thrower which could launch a spear with great force and for a considerably longer distance than a spear thrown by hand.  The spear just now finished, was the last of seven new spears made just for this hunt.

Gathering his new spears into his hands, Dry Otter closed his eyes and breathed on them.  He promised each of them the blood of the bison they were made to hunt, and if they remained whole, the blood of other animals besides.  He promised his weapons that if they flew straight and true, bit deep and hard, then he would care for them and treat them with respect and reverence.  He then sent a silent prayer to the Gods, asking them to watch over him and his tribe, give them a successful hunt, and the strength they would need to get through the coming seasons.

Feeling a shadow fall upon him, Dry Otter opened his eyes to see Dazzled Light standing above him.  He was the tribe’s shaman, and a man of great power.  The light of the gods had struck him down during a storm, but when he arose, his hair was white and his eyes had taken a whiter cast than the pale blue they were just the day before.  The entire tribe looked to Dazzled Light for their spiritual wellbeing, even as they held him in reverent awe.

“Good,” the elder said upon seeing Dry Otter’s eyes open, “you pay the proper tribute to your weapons.  Tell me, young one, what is your hope for this hunt?”

“That it be successful.”

“So that you might enter manhood.” A statement, not a question.  Dry Otter’s response was a simple nod.

“You did well on your Vision Quest.  You are boy who has shown both bravery and strength, and are not quick to raise your temper.  I think you will do well on your hunt, and become a man worth the hand of any woman of the tribe.”

While the old man’s words of praise meant a lot to Dry Otter, they did nothing to settle his nerves.  However, he swallowed his fear, and said, “Thank you, Dazzled Light.  Your words carry weight and I hold them in my heart.”

The old man smiled, then extended his hand, “Stand, and join an old man as he returns to his fire.  You have the fears of every young man before he leads his first hunt.  This is normal.  I want you to fast this day, and the next.  Eat nothing save water.  Your spirit must be as ready for this hunt as your mind and heart.”

“Yes, Elder. I will fast, and pray.”

Together, the two men, one young, one old, walked over the ridge and returned to the group of shelters made of brush and grass where the tribe lived.  When they arrived back at the camp, Dazzled Light took up his bowl and a crude spoon carved from the leg bone of an elk.  Dry Otter made his way to his shelter, and sat by the fire.  Then he began to pray.

Author Notes

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