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Excerpt:Namoenee squeezed my hand quickly before standing and stepped out in front of the mass. Her father sat down in his place among his people and pride emanated from him as he watched his daughter. Namoenee started to fill in the gaps as only she could, and she captivated me. I didn’t catch everything she was saying, for I had not learned their language well enough due to its complexity and my translator was the one speaking, but I was able to get the meaning of her words through her mimed reenactment. The crowd’s reaction to her story was exactly the same as mine. They weren’t full of cheer or laughter as she spoke to us, for as I did, they could hear the fright in her voice and were caught up in the moment. We could all feel her fear until she finished with her father’s great triumph. She walked over to me with an open hand and drew me out to join her, so I did.“Tell them your side, I will translate for you,” she said to me.I was embarrassed. “I couldn’t possibly,” I said as I tried to go back to my seat.Namoenee tugged at me twice until our eyes met. She gave me a look of genuine concern and replied, “You have to. For them. For us.”I understood her meaning, it was a way for me to unite myself with the tribe, but I started with difficulty. “I heard a noise,” I said as I stood there, and Namoenee spoke my words in her language. “I heard a muffled noise,” I tried to embellish. The crowd quickly grew bored. I could see it in their faces. I thought of how the chief and his daughter presented their stories with animation and decided I had best do the same to keep the attention of the audience. I crouched down to the ground, picked up a hand full of dirt and threw it into the fire. Then I mimed my way out of an imaginary hut door. The crowd livened up. I ran around the fire in circles demonstrating my quickness in cutting off the kidnappers, and then showed the tribe how I dealt with them. I even took Tahadondeh’s humorist approach at my near suffocation. Everyone laughed again, perhaps harder this time since I actually laid on the ground like a big bug stuck on its back. My arms and legs flailed about. “And then when I thought it was all over for me, I was saved by a great man, your chief, Wood’s Edge.”Tahadondeh stood in his grandness and the tribe went nuts. He came out and joined us in the circle as everyone cheered, clapped, hooted and hollered. Again, the tribe took a while to settle down, but Tahadondeh didn’t try to stop them. He waited for them to do it on their own. When they did he said to them, “We did not understand why this man came to us but now we do. If it were not for him, who knows what would have happened to my daughter. To him I am grateful, he is a great warrior.” The mass joined in with his opinion as they hooted and hollered in agreement. “He has offered his hand in helping us in the future should it be necessary and I have agreed to let him. In return, Jim Southland gave me this,” Tahadondeh said as he threw off his cape exposing the bear tattoo. He then walked around the edge of the circle for all to see. There were “ooos and ahs” all around. The younger men pounded their chests in excitement. The women clapped with glee. After completing the circle, the chief returned to stand between Namoenee and me. He wrapped his arms around both of our shoulders.“For all these reasons and more,” he looked at Namoenee, “it is my wish that Jim Southland,” he looked down at me, “and my daughter be together.” I tensed as the crowd suddenly got silent. “But I will leave it up to you, my brethren. Would you rather see my daughter with Gowanus or with the man she loves?”The tribe stood in unison. Even the ones who doubted my presence joined in. It was a moment of truth, and I found myself holding my breath.Like the parting of the Red Sea, the whole tribe separated themselves from Gowanus and came to the other side of the fire to stand by the three of us. Gowanus soon stood by himself with all eyes on him. His gaze was harsh across the flames.“It is decided,” the chief stated. “Gowanus, you are a strong man like your father and your people. But I think even you can see how better this union will be for all involved. What say you?” That was twice in one night that I heard Tahadondeh actually ask a question. I felt his sincerity as he stood there next to me, his arm still across my shoulders.Gowanus’s expression of hatred and surprise grew solemn once more. He answered, “It is with deep regret that I give up my claim to be with your daughter. I do understand the decision made here tonight. And with that, I ask your permission to leave in the morning to return to the Podunks, to my family.”“You may,” Tahadondeh said.With another slap to his abdomen, Gowanus left the light of the fire and disappeared into the darkness never to be heard from again, at least not by me. At least not alive.
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