[a short story by Sha’Tara]
A restless wind whispers softly in the spruce on the edge of a small lake. Brightly shining stars and distant, paling northern lights cast eerie shadows in the late summer night. A great horned owl calls, answered by the howl of a timber wolf echoed over the waters. A startled killdeer gives its plaintive cry, repeated several times, then silence again. Glowing softly, a small campfire throws its own little stars into the night, their flickering, sinewy path changing to the mood of the breeze. A young woman sits near the fire, staring, unmoving, her dark eyes reflecting its dancing light. The minutes pass slowly as the stars trace their endless circle around the tail of little bear.
At a chosen moment the woman stands and throws some broken branches upon the fire, watching intently as the flames leap up, crackling, hungry. She begins a slow dance around the edge of the fire, her bare feet moving through the drying grass, her footsteps blending with the lapping of wavelets on the shore and the sighing of the wind in the branches. She hums in a low monotone, unintelligible words passing her lips. Gradually, the song becomes more forceful. Proudly throwing back her head, her black hair cascading down her back, she lifts her hands up and starts chanting. The song rises and falls, hauntingly moving, echoes of ancient voices seeking words to an as yet unformed hope.
Her dance takes on a rhythmic pattern, her knee-length dress swaying as she approaches the fire then steps back lightly into the darkness of the trees, to reappear from another direction. Her voice rises above the trees, flowing through the rolling hills…
From the midst of the flame, a form takes shape, graying head bowed, hands held in blessing. The form addresses the dancer: “Daughter, what are you doing? Why dance with danger tonight? Why seek death? You are the hope of the people. Would you tempt the white man again and be accused of witchcraft? Would you die in his fire too? You summoned me… now answer me!”
Swaying gently, without looking at the flame, the song dying on her lips, she answers the vision: “I am your daughter. I cannot be otherwise and I have your heart also. You died to save me, mother, though I never asked it of you. Now, you are Fire Spirit. You live in the heart of the volcano at the centre of creation and possess the gifts of life and healing in full measure: would you deny me my own birthright and refuse me my homecoming?
There is nothing left here, mother. The people are ashes, spirits without homes. Those who remain are slaves eating crumbs from the hand of their conqueror. Should I fear a moment of pain and I too become a slave?
No, mother! Do not try to dissuade me. Tonight, I dance with the spirits under the stars. Tomorrow, I will dance in the fire. Then I’ll come to you and together we will prepare the medicine for the wandering spirits. We will rise with the breath of the sun in our mouths, awakening the land, shaking the ashes of the people in the winds until all becomes one and life pulses freely in the land again. I’ll see you tomorrow, mother…”
The flames died down and the vision vanished. She took up her chant and her dance, delighting in a myriad of physical sensations heightened by the knowledge that this was her last night on earth. In the morning, her relentless pursuers would find her. The angry new god would have his victim and enjoy a short-lived victory over the past. From his fire she would rise to become Fire Spirit and wrest the future from his bloody hands.