The setting is Yosemite Valley. The sites of what are now known as El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls stand as sentinels and encircle the valley at a time before the conquests of Western Europe. It can be said that this is even a time before the very rise of Europe. Here in the valley, the water is still pure and untainted by unnatural chemicals. Depending on where you stand, you can hear either the faint trickle of the water as it meanders in search of its big brother, the river, or the occasional crash of ice as it leaves its winter home atop a mountain and joins the rushing, turbulent water as it careens over a ledge, only to hit rock below before continuing its journey. The crashes come fewer now, however, as the earth comes alive. Various shades of green begin, once again, to cover the earthy browns and blacks that had dominated during the winter. Flowers of every color of the rainbow are beginning to spring up as well in various meadows and along riverbanks. The air itself is fresh and clean and alive with the sounds of nature – birds call to each other now, thrashing around in among the treetops, defending territory while calling to find suitable mates for the coming spring. A herd of deer begins grazing in a particularly grassy area near the base of some mountains. A mother bear entreats her two cubs to leave the den and follow her; she feels that it is time to introduce them to the river today.
Adding to the polyphony is human speech. Now that the sun has been in the sky for some time, everyone is busy doing his or her individual tasks. The males are gathered in one area, discussing the possibility of making a hunt sometime soon – are the water levels low enough that travel would not be dangerous? Are the animals fat enough to even be hunted yet? What about training the younger ones who are coming of age? Will they be ready and able to help in the hunt? The women are busy at home, cooking and cleaning while their daughters search for edible plants. In a warm, sunny area, the elderly are entertaining the children by telling them creation stories of the earth, the sun, the moon, the people and animals… And in the woods, another woman is teaching a younger one about medicine. The people here are the Miwoks of Yosemite.
The tale is a forbidden love story between a young woman, next in line to become her people's medicine woman, and a trader, who visits this particular tribe for the first time in his young career and falls in love. Both are torn between their pride, their people, and their strong attraction towards each other.
Her duty is to her people, the clan she has lived with for all of her seventeen years. In that time, she lost her father to a failed bear hunt. Her mother had died within a few moons, stricken with sadness at the loss of her mate. Her older brother had already been married off to another clan somewhere in the north; she hadn't seen him since the last gathering three or four summers back. Despite not having any relations, however, she loved her people, all of whom had adopted her. In particular, it was the medicine woman who took her in and sheltered her as her own. She knows that she cannot forego the knowledge placed on her by the woman she calls her second mother. The medicine woman is getting old; the last winter had been especially tough for the elder woman and it is highly unlikely she will be able to live through another like the one that had just passed. It was essential that the student start taking up the duties of medicine woman and soon.
His specialty is in interacting with people. In his youth, he was always fascinated with the traders who came to his village every now and again. He often stayed up late into the night, long past the time when other children his age had gone to bed, just to listen to the tales these foreigners had. When he was thirteen summers old, he deliberately skipped training for his coming of age hunt so he could question a visiting trader. The trader, surprised, went to the boy's father and chief to ask if he could take the boy with him on one of his journeys after the boy had come of age. Reluctantly, they had agreed; it would have been offensive to turn down a trader who possessed powers of his own. Within two moons, the boy had gone with the trader to be his apprentice. That was six years ago; now, he is on his own.
One morning, when the water flows relatively high in its banks, the trader feels the need to be on the move. With winter finally over, he has the strong urge to leave, say good-bye to his people, and take up the pack once more. His feet take him northward and away from the coast that has been familiar to him most of his life. A moon or so passes before he catches sight of the rock gates leading to a valley. The sun has just started to begin its slow descent from high overhead when a watcher spots him, and it is just as the sun is starting to dip beneath the horizon when he is warmly welcomed into the clan. After paying his due respect to the chief and elders of the tribe for the reception, he takes the seat offered to him at the main fire and accepts the food presented to him without so much as a glance to the presenter; he is ravenous. A voice keeps him from taking his first bite.
"Your presence here is an honor, trader."
He turns his head to reply and catches sight of the face that had spoken the words before she is able to duck away. She had been the one to offer him the food, and by the simple skirt she wears and the pouch that hangs at her waist, he guesses that she is a medicine woman.
And so the two first met at the communal fire.