Excerpt from Covenants
Near the hunting ground below the Sacred City,
four hundred twenty ninth years after the sign given of the coming of Christ
BROKEN PROMISES TO GOD, like pottery under a careless hand, are calamities for the good of the whole. He had learned such travesties firsthand. His own people, the ferocious perpetrators and participators of the last great war were the reason he eyed what now sidled just below him, a dark form in the bush.
Ganawenjige lay on his belly, low and still, peered down at the warrior from his limestone lookout through the whirled luster of blue-green leaves. He dared not breathe. The tracker’s back was to him, his tall and thick frame as sturdy as the trunk of a forest tree, his ochre skin bare except for the multicolored breechclout and his copper arm and ankle bands burnishing in the sun. The hunter clutched in his free hand a flint-tipped atlatl poised to cast and sink deep inside an enemy. From his belt, he kept close a copper sword to scalp and gut what he would later brandish as his trophy.
The fierce-looking man, bent forward and riveted his gaze into the undergrowth, parting leaves with his hand as he crept one more step away, and then another, his head swiveling back and forth in his search of the remnant Mund-dua. By the time the warrior was some distance away, Ganawenjige slowly released the air that burned his lungs and chanced another breath—a mistake, he realized, as a twig snapped beneath his chest.
The tracker whirled. His dark, flint eyes, set deep in his chiseled face, fixed upon the ridge. He tiptoed closer until he stopped just below the crest that jutted out above his head. His gaze swept every inlet of rock, every opening through the lacework of branches of the hidden alcove, and he was so close now that Ganawenjigi could smell the man’s sweat mingling with the forest decay under his nose.
Can he see me? If the tracker had noticed him, he would have finished what he had come here to do. Ganawenjigi clutched the copper knife in his hand, waited, ready for evasive tactics. Finally, the man eased away, hardly a sound issuing from beneath his feet on his retreat away from the niche.
It had been days since Ganawenjigi had finished his solemn work. At the place of gathering, inside the bowels of the earth, he had completed painting the last of the murals, had interred the remaining carvings, tablets, and great circular stones that held the prophesies and promises of his people and those of other nations as well.
He had worked days to carve out the secret hovel within the statue of the Mun-dua warrior and conceal the most sacred prize of all. Its preservation was vital, he well knew—to ensure the sacred items might be spared the wrath and utter destruction of the enemy should they breach the cave’s entrance. Within a copper tubing for protection, he had secured the rent fabric of one of their great leader’s garments, that which held the most sacred of the written covenants that The Great Elk nation had made with their Creator. They had passed the title down through time by the hands of their prophets. And the prophets, in turn, had taught and warned the people to protect their freedom, their families and to obey the Great Spirit who had brought them safely across the Sunrise Ocean. Even more vital, if The People failed to uphold their promise to God, that same deity would sweep them from off the face of the land. Hadn’t it happened just that way?
With a sad heart, Ganawenjigi had watched friends and family, as well as many great leaders turn away from their covenants, forget their good fortune, and mock the grace the Creator so abundantly had provided them; the people had turned back to their natural ways like a dog to its vomit. There were but few who were yet alive, Ganawenjigi among them, and if he could escape notice, he might live to tell the tale.
But to whom? The trackers had destroyed his village, along with his family and friends. They had left nothing of what was once a great civilization, their temple a smoking ruin smoldering upward into the sky. Nothing was left to cherish, and the enemy would forever hunt the remnant of the Great Elk Nation until its people had gone the way of all the earth.
Some of his brethren had joined with their foes, assurance against an, otherwise, cruel death. He could not commit to such a traitorous act. The promise Ganawenjigi had made to his father was far more important than his own life. He was to preserve the sacred records and messages of the covenant for future generations. Those who would possess this land would need to know that God would hold them under the same obligation, that of keeping their promises to him. The covenant would always be attached to the land, and those who disobeyed the Creator would inherit the same destructive end as had his own people.
He had ensured the caves obscurity for months and had finally heaved the heavy boulder into its place, then readjusted the vines and scrub to mask the cave’s entrance. Waiting days to ensure no one followed him, he, under the cover of night, had sloshed through the undulating blue-gray stream past opossum and raccoon and, with great effort, clamored up and down and up again the rolling, timbered wilderness to draw his enemy far away from the repository in case they found his trail. But Ganawenjigi well knew that his discovery was likely, and because of his enemy’s hatred and relentless pursuit, it was only a matter of time before they found him.
He picked up the pace, hustled down the crest of saplings, grandparent trees, and the gnarled roots and shrubbery that scraped at his arms and legs—pushing on further still toward the bottom where the terrain rose up and thrust him into a chasm. He found a crevice in the rockface and maneuvered between the great granite walls to cover from the elements for a much-needed rest.
Barely, situated in the hovel, he heard the cracking of a limb close by. Ganawenjigi grabbed for his dagger, inched toward the slivered opening, his heart racing in his chest. His ears strained to listen. Only silence met his ears. With cautious observance, he edged his head barely past the opening, his gaze snagging on the distraction of a large orange moon rising from a ledge in the distance from behind slow-moving clouds.
A lethal mistake this time, a blunder he could never correct. A shadow moved on the ground, then the scraping of metal sounded above. Ganawenjigi’s gaze whirled upward, barely glimpsed the straddling form and the blade that swooshed toward his neck, severing his last horrified gasp.