Michael Blake: The Holy Road

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Michael Blake The Holy Road
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    The Holy Road
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The Holy Road: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Owl Prophet routinely predicted dry summers, difficult births, and spectacular weather. Of course he was not right every time, but his many successes made his failures, especially ones without import, easy to forget.

He was particularly adept at sorting out omens, and none was more spectacular than the mystery of the rat. Shortly after Wind In His Hair announced that he and several Hard Shields were going into Mexico and any able-bodied men could join them, a dead rat, its entrails bulging through an opening in its stomach, appeared one morning in the center of the village as if it had dropped from the sky.

Wind In His Hair thought the rat had been dropped somehow by a hawk or owl passing overhead, an explanation readily accepted by Dances With Wolves and the rest of the Hard Shield membership. Ten Bears peered down at the rat and wondered if it hadn't disemboweled itself in a freak accident. Kicking Bird dismissed the rat as a trivial matter, not worthy of thought. But talk persisted and theories of one sort of another fluttered around the village like scattering birds.

The rat's corpse was snatched up by one of the camp dogs before Owl Prophet could examine it, but that evening he hired a crier to circulate through the village, inviting all who desired information to assemble in front of his medicine lodge at the falling of night's first star.

Many eyes watched the sky that night and when the first star flared and died, a crowd gathered at the appointed place. Oddly, there was no fire inside the lodge and people began to grow restless, wondering if Owl Prophet was even inside. Suddenly the tent flap flew up and he stepped out. The crowd was silent. They could make out the outline of the famous owl perched upon his head. A few people gasped as the owl's head swiveled.

“I know the meaning of the rat,” Owl Prophet proclaimed. “Come again in two sleeps and I will tell if it is good or bad.”

Owl Prophet slipped back into the lodge, dropping the flap behind him, and the crowd broke up in confusion. Two nights later the throng that gathered outside Owl Prophet's medicine lodge was large and expectant. The glow of a fire could be seen inside the place of mystery and the crowd waited silently as if holding its collective breath. For several minutes a flurry of shadowy movement held the onlookers' full attention. Then the flap was thrown open by unseen hands and the viewers pressed closer together, craning frantically for a better view of the amazing tableau that had sprung up before their eyes.

Filling the entrance was a large square of canvas, a screen illuminated by the light of the fire behind it. Out of nowhere the silhouette of a man appeared which everyone assumed was the form of Owl Prophet. But before anyone could be sure, another silhouette appeared behind the screen. There was no mistaking the distinct outline of an owl. Its head swiveled on its neck and its body expanded and contracted with what appeared to be living breath. The bird's movements were stiff and mechanical, but instead of inviting skepticism they had the opposite effect. The queerness of the action behind the screen held the audience rapt. Not a soul had ever seen anything like it before.

While the owl performed, incantations were uttered, incantations that seemed to be coming from the silhouette of the man, though the voice sounded different from Owl Prophet's.

“Great Mystery,” the voice intoned, “speak to your servant. Tell me of the rat with the hole. The people want to know its meaning. They are afraid. Let them understand it, Great Mystery. They seek to serve you."

The request was repeated three times, and all the while the owl gyrated. A long silence followed during which both silhouettes ceased to move. And then, in a measured way, the owl astonished the Comanches by slowly and dramatically spreading its wings. This action was also repeated three times and was so deliberate as to leave the impression that something was about to happen.

When it did, the effect was overwhelming. Gasps of horror broke out in the ranks of the audience. Several youngsters ran away and two people slumped unconscious to the ground as the owl's silhouette began to talk.

It was nothing anyone could understand, an otherworldly blend of high-pitched screeches, low grunts, and prolonged sighs all delivered with dizzying rapidity. The creature spoke for no more than a minute before it spread its wings once more, issued a final piercing screech, and fell away from the screen.

The figure of the man fell away too, and for a few moments the crowd stood still, staring at the black canvas in complete bewilderment. Before anyone could move, heavy, scraping sounds were heard, and moments later, to the astonishment of all, Owl Prophet himself crawled through the entrance. He flopped down in front of the lodge and, with much effort, raised himself to his knees.

“The Mystery has spoken,” he gasped. “The rat with the hole. . a bad sign. . many rifles in Mexico. . death in big water. . a scalp coming back. . a red scalp!”

With that Owl Prophet pitched forward and lay heaving on the ground, unable to move.

The people closest to the medicine man were wary at first of going to his aid, thinking he might be dying. But Owl Prophet continued to breath, and when he lifted his head slightly, those with the courage to do so lifted him up and carried him through the dispersing crowd, depositing him in the family lodge across the way. For several hours, Owl Prophet lay in fevered delirium before slipping into a sleep from which he would not wake until twilight of the next day.

People wandered back to their homes drained by the experience, their minds packed with unforgettable images that kept the camp awake long after bedtime.

One who stayed up late was Wind In His Hair. He did not dismiss Owl Prophet's performance. In fact, he was as deeply impressed as anyone. But he was also angered by the turn of events. He snapped at his wives and children before retreating to the special Hard Shield lodge, where he sat for an hour in solitary contemplation, angry that the delicate chemistry of an important raid, so long in planning, had been upset. Owl Prophet had power to be sure. But what about his own? Was his own power to be thrown away because an owl talked? Was the might of all Comanches to be subverted by a spectacular show of prophecy?

The call went out to the Hard Shields that same night and when they assembled in Wind In His Hair's meeting place, he spoke out of his heart, saying that while he could not doubt the truth of Owl Prophet's words, he was not ready to surrender to them either. Owl Prophet might have the ability to speak with the Mystery but he could not guide an arrow to its mark. He had never faced an enemy in battle, and while Wind In His Hair admitted he knew little of magic, he knew how to lead men in war. That was his specialty. He then asked each man at his fire how he felt and if each still wanted to go.

All of them did, and two days later the large party with Wind In His Hair at its head rode into a stiff breeze from the south, leaving behind them the anxious hopes of friends and relatives.

When the bedraggled war party returned it was learned that each part of the prophecy had proven out. There were many guns in Mexico, far too many. Three good warriors had been drowned in floodwaters. The scalp hung in Wind In His Hair's lodge. AIl had been predicted with awesome perfection. Overnight, Owl Prophet's influence increased ten-fold, and when the crier went around two moons after the party's return from Mexico, everyone put aside their business and came to the medicine lodge. This time Wind In His Hair stood at the front of the crowd, fingering the sewn lids of his missing eye, waiting as anxiously as anyone for Owl Prophet to appear.

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