A/N: This is the product of a freewrite I did last night/this morning, simply because I was bored. .. I was given a prompt - "Food for Thought" - that I...pretty much ignored. XD Please note that the setting/characters are entirely fictional and are in no way based upon any actual persons (living or dead), locales, or historical fact. In short: I made everything up. (Although the idea was originally based upon and influenced by the First North-Americans series by Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear.)

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The Riverbank

S.N. Wolf

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Listen to the sweet sounds of the river
calling…
Calling out to you…

The River, Jet Black Stare.

--

A triumphant, excited roar went up from the crowd gathered on the banks as the canoes became visible along the horizon. Women clutched at their bosoms in barely-contained eagerness, gazing at the encroaching boats in an attempt to scout out the faces of husbands, brothers, and sons; children jumped and cheered; infants squalled at the noise. At long last, the war party was returning after four moons (1) of absence, and there was no one amongst the gathered Buried Shell Tribe who was not anxious. The men were not three feet from the shore when the crowd broke to sprint forward. Only the very young and very elderly remained upon the land, with a single exception.

Crane Dance hung back, earthen eyes searching for an impossible face amidst all of the grinning and laughing. The delicate breeze that blew in from the wide waters played with his obsidian hair, long and unbound. Tendrils caressed his face, neck, and arms, but did not hinder his gaze. No one said a word to him, no one inquired as to why he had not joined in the enthusiastic hysteria – they were used to this by now. He didn't move from his place, even when the tribe, once again complete, began to return to the riverbank. Each wooden boat was empty, none bearing the one whom he sought. It had been close to twelve seasons (2) since the young man had begun his bizarre and lonesome ritual. A pointless thing to do, he knew, but something deep in his souls told him that, if he simply waited long enough…

--

"I promise to come back to you, Crane," Splintered Arrow chuckled, tracing patterns along his lover's cinnamon skin. "I'll come back, and I'll tell you all about how we made those Falcon Crest bastards beg us for mercy. If you want, I'll even bring back one of their heads for you." This last offer was delivered in a low, cackling tone – it was obvious that he was only teasing. The response to the suggestion was an elbow to the gut.

"You even consider doing such a vile thing, and you'll never hear from me again." Though he spoke the threat with disgust in his tone, all sincerity was lost when Crane Dance turned in Splintered Arrow's lap and pressed an earnest kiss to the man's lips. The contact flared, and the two were soon clutching at each other with all of the intensity and urgency of those on limited time. It didn't take long for Crane Dance to end up underneath Splintered Arrow, gazing up at his beloved with a mixture of affection and melancholy in his eyes.

The latter man braced himself on hands that were on either side of Crane's head as he dipped down to offer tender, but fiery kisses. One of those hands lifted to stroke a thin chest, trace the curves of a body that was boyish despite belonging to a grown man. Of the two, Splintered Arrow was the younger – only eighty seasons to Crane Dance's eighty-eight (3) – although many assumed the opposite. The latter was petite, with features and a body that would have better suited a youth, while the former had a build that was perfect for the hunter he was: tall, lean, and strong, with corded muscle that rippled beneath his copper skin in attractive undulations. He looked every bit the man he was.

As Splintered Arrow applied his lips again and again to Crane Dance's skin, the elder male was finding it difficult to remain upset at his lover's impending departure. Between ragged pants and sighs, he breathed, "I…had a…Dream…last night."

"Hm?" Splintered Arrow didn't look up from his ministrations, but raised his eyebrows to let his partner know he was listening. Crane was the apprentice of Husk Village's Dreamer, Hollow Reed, and often saw visions, either as portents of the future or as messages from the gods. This particular Dream seemed to be a little of both. Crane Dance shuddered as though with a chill, although it was the middle of summer.

"A…riverbank," he murmured, breath hitching between the words, "I was there…by myself, yet it wasn't…me. I was watching…from outside…" It was at this that Splintered Arrow lifted his head; such Dreams were often the ones that foretold misfortune.

He didn't want to, but he couldn't stop himself from urging Crane Dance to continue, whispering a soft, "Go on…"

The slender man caught his breath and slowly sat up, his deep brown eyes serious and locked on the face of his beloved. "The water was the color of the evening sky, and was so hot that it boiled. The wind was cold… It smelled of something dead. I watched myself standing there for several suns, and even though it hadn't been more than seven, I aged as though it had been seasons. I was always alone, always staring out at the river…" Splintered Arrow shifted uncomfortably, sitting in silence before pulling Crane Dance into his lap. He hazarded a carefree, toothy smile – one that he was known for – and gently rested his chin on the crown of his companion's head.

"I'm sure that it's nothing terrible," he assured the older male with a purr. It was a task to make himself sound convincing. "Even Elder Hollow Reed has false Dreams sometimes, so there's a good chance it's just that." Hesitantly, Crane Dance nodded, leaning back into Splintered Arrow's broad chest.

"…I hope you're right, Arrow."

--

The evening's gathering, celebrating the victory and return of the Buried Shell's warriors, spread an infectious sense of good humor and energy. As usual, only Crane Dance remained separate, sitting alone on the darkened riverbank with his knees drawn up to his bare chest. He stared at the sunless horizon, a mixture of expectancy and disappointment in his eyes. His heart ached acutely at the thought of another week of futile waiting, but he would remain true to his custom without fail, as always. Nothing would deter him from keeping his promise.

--

Crane Dance stood at the river's edge, silently begging Splintered Arrow not to go. He didn't want to give his love up to the unforgiving war gods, for fear that they might take too strongly to him and never give him back. Because of his status as Dreamer's apprentice, Crane himself was forbidden from going into battle with his brothers, and was forced to watch as the canoes shoved off from the shore. A few of the men looked back at their loved ones, and Crane Dance caught Splintered Arrow's gaze one last time before he disappeared from sight.

Deprived of their menfolk, the remaining members of Husk Village milled about with little to do. Suppers were prepared for families of two rather than three, mothers hushed their whimpering children, and wives worried and wept. The elderly men and younger boys complained of being left behind, and were chastened half-heartedly by their female counterparts. Everything seemed like one, long, lonely sigh; one could almost taste the difference in the air. For tens and tens of seasons, the Buried Shell Tribe – and Husk Village in particular – had been terrorized by the more powerful Falcon Crest People, and for tens and tens of seasons, the Buried Shell had been preparing to put a stop to it. It had finally come to war – the first the village had seen in ages – and everything was thrown into disarray.

The long, lonely suns became longer, lonelier moons, and everyone had turned to Hollow Reed and his childlike student for guidance. Even Matron Ash Steps, the wife of the village's chief Sleeps On Stones, looked to the elderly Dreamer in hopes of learning what the future held for their braves. When few Dreams came, spirits dropped. The only Dream the Crane Dance had since the war party's departure was the one which he had described to Splintered Arrow just days before he'd gone. He never spoke a word of it to Hollow Reed or anyone else; it was his own to decode and his own to fret over. The vision had become so lifelike that he almost expected to see an old man whenever he gazed into the water.

At the dark of the sixth moon since the start of the fighting, the warriors finally returned. Crane Dance was among the first to the riverbank, eager to see his beloved Arrow, who would, without a doubt, chase his fears and worries away. When the war party, clearly victorious, breached the shore, everything became a swirling mass of bodies and confusion. Crane attempted to pick his way through men, women, and children, calling out his lover's name. He searched for that familiar grin, kept his ears perked for a chuckle, but was unsuccessful.

"Red Hound," the small man called to one of the warriors, who turned to face him with his infant daughter on his shoulders, "Where's Arrow?" The look on Red Hound's face filled Crane Dance with choking dread. It was an expression that was apologetic, but hardened against grief. He knew immediately what it meant, but his mind refused to acknowledge that Splintered Arrow could actually be dead. It was not possible – he was one of the best warriors the village had; there was no way that he could die when those of lesser ability had returned alive and well. Red Hound looked upon the would-be Dreamer with pity in his eyes, but Crane didn't notice.

He remained on the riverbank long after everyone else had returned, and though several people came to apologize and coax him back to the village, he didn't budge. Splintered Arrow wasn't dead; he knew in his souls that it simply couldn't be. Crane Dance resolved to simply wait until his beloved returned. Seven suns, he told himself, like in my Dream. I will wait for seven suns.

--

The week passed for Crane in silence, as always, but something seemed different as the sky darkened on the evening of the seventh sun. His head began to nod, his eyelids droop – never before had he fallen asleep while he waited; he'd always lasted the duration without a moment's rest. He tried to keep himself from drifting off, but he couldn't outlast the power of his sudden fatigue, and slowly slipped into Sleep Woman's arms. Almost immediately, he began to Dream.

"Crane!" a familiar voice called to him from somewhere inside the walls of his Dream. He turned to see Splintered Arrow standing with his arms spread wide, waiting for him. There was no hesitation when Crane Dance sprinted towards his beloved. The ensuing embrace was warm and comforting, just as it had been twelve seasons ago.

"I knew that if I just waited for you, you would come back," the older man said, weeping into his lover's chest without shame. There was no verbal reply to this; Arrow simply stroked his hair and held him tightly. The two remained that way for a long time, until their reunion was interrupted by the presence of another. The intruder was an elderly woman, gnarled and grey with eyes black as coal. Crane Dance swallowed a gasp at the crone's countenance before whispering, "Grandmother Soul-Carrier." The hag nodded, and a stone-cold realization washed over him.

"You're not taking him," Crane asserted, though his voice trembled with dread and tears. Grandmother Soul-Carrier shook her head, raising a knotted finger. She pointed not at Splintered Arrow, but at Crane Dance, and the latter's fear dissolved almost completely when he realized the meaning of the gesture. "You're here for…me?" – another nod – "You've already taken him. I see. My Dream… This is what it meant all along." Alarm was replaced with a strange serenity at the knowledge, and he knew that his waiting had finally come to an end.

Waking from his sleep, Crane Dance stood and left the riverbank for the river, which swallowed him without complaint.

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Footnotes:

(1) Four months
(2) Three years
(3) Twenty years; twenty-two years.