The wood lies in wait, denuded branches uplifted, free of summer's burden. Spent leaves circle the tree trunks in decaying heaps hoarding what heat is left deep in the dampness of the black soil. There is not a sound but for the occasional rustle of brittle leaves crackling under the softness of a snow rabbit rushing over. Emaciated mice scurry to and fro…searching. The still air drapes silent, anticipating…somewhere in that moment between freezing and frozen.
Wamditanka's eyes shine lucid, acutely focused, as he peers from his blind ensconced under carefully latticed twigs and leaves covering the dank pit. Here he lies prone upon a layer of holy sage waiting…ever so still.
It is his sixteenth winter, all-previous a culmination to this day in wait. Wamditanka's dark, attentive eyes blink in time with the shrill bleat of the bait secured to a stout stake embedded above within easy reach while his higher senses remain on edge, tuned by the long days of his formative youth. Wamditanka's reflexes constrict; his thoughts, as he waits immobile in the damp ground, wander.
Had I not sang songs of thanksgiving to Wakan Tanka?
Had I not secluded myself these four days alone in this silent Wilderness fasting?
Had I not felt the sting of the flail upon my body?
Had I not enclosed myself in the Onikare while the breath of The Thunderbird cleansed my body and spirit?
Had I not immersed my sweating body in a frigid stream before smudging myself with burnt pine needles following the rite of Inipi?
Had I not painted my body with white clay in the rite of purification?"
Had I not beseeched The Manifest Great Spirit, Wanbli Galeshka, to grant me a speckled feather from a soaring wing?
Had I not buried myself in the center of the universe on a bed of sacred sage to await The Speckled Eagle?
Wamditanka grimaces from the low growl of his knotted stomach, a reminder of his fasting. Desiccated blood, crisp and flaky, marks his brow, trickling down in dry rivulets onto his flushed cheeks. His shirt lies heavy on his tender skin, laced with ugly, reddened bruises, proof of his harmony with Mother Earth from which all things emerge and rejoin. Crimson splotches stain his faded breechcloth and leggings. The new moccasins his Mother,
Moontear, had so carefully sewn are caked with bloodied mud. All this he has endured; the pain, the long hours at meditation, the pangs of hunger and thirst, as tribute, penance and yes, in atonement.
Wamditanka tries to hold his outreached arm steady, eager to grab his long awaited prize. His Father and his father's father have had their day; now this one is his. On this crisp day in the winter of his youth, spring of his manhood, he will become a member of the proud Clan of The Speckled Eagle, as his ancestors, all Chiefs and great
Warriors among his beloved people, had become members on other long ago, crisp days.
Without warning, the piercing scream of the rabbit's death throes, the whoosh of furious wings, his own gasping lunge through dry leaves; match in unison the frenzied beating of three hearts. Wamditanka grasps the eagle inches above the cutting talons, as they in turn hold secure to the rabbit's fur. In one commingled heartbeat, a practiced hand reaches through the feathers, plucking "The One": a tawny feather speckled with gold that he would from this day forward wear proudly in his long, dark braids.
In less than a second heartbeat, Wamditanka's tenacious hold relinquishes, releasing the startled bird; it's affrighted flapping, propelling it upward over the skeletal tops of the silent, impartial trees. A broad smile overwhelms taut lips, resounding a piercing victory cry, shattering the crystalline air: