Rhoku left Wolf and Losau to marry Normu; She seems happy taking care of his three children. Right after they married I took Wolf to hunt for iguana and confronted him on her pregnancy; slamming him against a tree I press my hunting knife to his throat. "You, what are you going to do when Rhoku's baby comes, daddy?"
"It's mine, alright, even if it is Yellow Face's, I will claim him as mine. Satisfied?"
"When are you going to claim him? When he's a man?"
"We have already worked it out with Normu; he will raise him until Normu says he is ready to travel."
"And Losau what of her baby? She's due soon, she has to ride a horse most of the time."
Wolf bristles and tries to push my knife away. "We're almost at The Valley of Snakes; then we can return to the States. My daughter will be born there.
I draw my hand back to hit him with the butt of the knife, but I gag and retch. Sinking to my knees I empty my stomach. Feeling Wolf's hand on my shoulder I shake it off. "Go away. Leave me alone." He leaves and Lady Gay starts licking my face clean. I let the wolf do it. Feeling weak I sit back against the tree while she places her head in my lap.
Pell finds me and hands over a pregnancy test kit, but I shake my head and refuse to accept it. She grimaces and says, "Take care of yourself. I will have a midwife check you. Since this journey began there have been twenty three births, thirty five pregnancies, and no miscarriages; I don't want you to be the first. You carry our future at your chest."
I feel for the Seed of Aman. It is still there and now almost glows in its live green shell; it is starting to come to life. I do not tell Pell about my dreams of being consumed by the growing seed as it turns into a tree. I will not leave Monell and Kendo motherless a second time. I will not.
My chest has swelled. I didn't have much, but that makes it more obvious. My belly will start showing in a month or so.
We arrive at the valley of snakes. After Oure determines the area to plant the seed we pass through and over the ridge to the next valley and establish a permanent camp. I am to plant the seed tomorrow.
While Upatu builds a canopy of palm leaves, I hang the hammocks, and see to the children and Soboro. She still has not stopped grieving for her family, and I don't blame her. Her life seems to be in slow motion except where the children are involved. I have not told her of the child I carry.
After seeing to our few possessions I borrow Upatu's blow gun and hunt. It takes only ten minutes or so to bag a large bushmaster snake. The dart frog poison paralyses the serpent before he can slink away. I cut off its head not wanting to mess with its venom, even if Oure can use it for its medicine. I bring it back draped around my neck to find Soboro has already started a cooking fire.
If Upatu and I stay in the Amazon and adopt Kaniwa ways, I would have Soboro as our second wife. I shiver, if I don't survive tomorrow like my dreams suggest, I hope Upatu will marry her anyway. I don't think he will abandon her.
This morning Upatu shakes me awake and we roll out of the hammock to chew on some dried snake. Oure and the elders come to fetch us on their way back to the valley of snakes. Aurora Wolverine is among them and I walk beside her. We both carry our staffs given to us by Aman the first tree. The forest has been hard on her. The lines on her face have deepened and her fingers are knobby and crooked.
Taking hold of her hand I feel the strength still there, but I can't stop the trembling of my own hands.
Looking up at me she says, "Fear not my daughter; we will meet our fate today. Yours was ordained when you took on the Mojave tattoo and mine when I took up the sword. Your child will protect you, I have seen it. Look."
We top the ridge and look into the Valley of Snakes and for the first time I see wild growth spreading out from the designated spot, remnants of the crazed marks of the lightning strike. Calmness settles on me. I ask Aurora, "How did you know I am with child?"
She chuckles and says, "You are the talk among the older women. To an experienced eye it is easy to see your glow. You must not tell The Lion who the father is; not until Upatu is knighted. He is a good man and will be a good father.
It is a short hike to the spot where the lightning strike fused a patchwork of earth into green glass. Oure tests the ground until he finds a spot nearby and plunges his staff into the earth. He waits a minute or so and again takes hold of the staff, squeezing until his knuckles turn white. A smile forms on his lips and he pulls it out. "This is the place to plant the seed and staff of Aman."
Pell advances with her staff held high to thrust into the moist black soil, but Oure blocks her. "My daughter you must become the new shaman when I pass. Aman did not give you the seed." He looks at me and says, "It is time, show the seed."
I hand my staff to Upatu, lift the seed up and untie the fiber net holding it to my necklace. It is now emerald green, and with my palms flat, I hold it out for all to see. I kneel in front of the hole made by Oure's staff and the seed starts to split open, a tiny root rolling out. My hand jerks dropping the seed which rolls into the hole to disappear. I push earth over it and stand up to wait… And wait. Oure's face is scrunched tight as he looks between me and the mound of dirt.
Feeling the stares of the assembled Kaniwa, I snatch my staff from Upatu; the humming in my grip hints at its true power. Closing my eyes I plunge it down beside the seed and pain rolls up my hands into my arms; it has started. My hands jerk back and the pain stops; the staff has not taken me. Again I wait; nothing happens. Holding my hands near the talisman I feel nothing. Closing my fingers around it I feel a dull nothingness; the staff is dead, its power spent. I pull it out and a hush falls over the Kaniwa. Looking around at disappointed and some terrified faces I see Aurora kiss Oure.
She hugs me whispering, "It was to be me, always me. I cannot bear a child. I could not carry the seed as only you could. It is now my time." She stabs her staff into the ground, walks over to give Wolf a hug, and pulls the leather off the long hidden bulge of the staff. It is grooved to fit hands, her hands; with new tendrils growing fresh on the ridges between the groves.
The Wolverine gives out her war cry. "As long as I can breathe I will never quit." She squeezes her fingers into the grooves and the tendrils fold over and harden to lock them in place.
Wolf pulls his sword. "Stop him!" sounds my distant voice and several hunters pull him back, stripping him of the terrible weapon to keep him from attacking the staff. I feel like an unwitting witness, unable to do more than observe. The seed has sprouted and sends a shoot up the side of the staff to entwine her hands and arms. When I am able to move, I approach to see the change has started; her hands have turned to wood as have her feet with roots extending from cracks in her rough skin. There is no gap between the fingers and the staff; she is one with the tree.
"I did this freely. Wolf; I wish to say goodbye to my friends," says Aurora through gritted teeth.
Throughout the day the Kaniwa file past her and she greets each one by name. As the sun sets the growth slows down and someone lights a torch. I approach to stand in front of her. "Why you?" I ask.
"My child, I will not fade away, an old hag. That first time at Aman, Oure instructed me on which prop root to look for. While I held it, the tree could not take you, or anyone else. Aman implanted a part of itself in me. I was doomed to become one with the tree, whether I came back to the Amazon or not. I am not capable of carrying a child; the tree would not give me its seed. You had the staff to protect you, more so than Pell. The tree chose you. Come morning, it will be done; Wolf will finish it. Do not stop him. For what he must do, he has already suffered many times in his dreams. Console him."
The morning comes quickly in the forest, too quickly; the transformation restarts. Her legs have completed their transformation as well as her arms to her shoulders it will not be long and she must be suffering. Wolf talks to her awhile then presses the tip of his staff to her breast. She smiles and then she is gone; the transformation completed that much faster. Wolf drops his staff and walks away; before leaving the clearing he breaks into a run.
I start after him and call for Upatu to help me.
It is a wild race to catch Wolf, Shadow has joined him, and I fear he will prevent us from stopping my best friend doing something stupid. Normu joins Upatu in the chase, but my worst fears are confirmed when we break out from the trees a hundred feet from a cliff. Wolf is nowhere to be seen, but Shadow is howling. I approach the lanky wolf to find my friend prone under his paws; Shadow outweighs me and needs no excuse to take a man down. Wolf convulses with sobs. I wave Upatu and Normu away, but they retreat no further than the tree line.
Placing my hand on Shadow's head I feel him quiver
I ask, "Wolf, are you willing to talk? You know me." He says nothing. "Shadow stopped you from jumping, didn't he?" His sobbing slows down. "This has been your nightmare all along, right?"
"Maud can go to hell." he answers. "She knew, but didn't tell me."
"Maud did not kill your mother; you did not kill your mother. Your mother asked for a way to help the Kaniwa. The tree answered and she accepted."
"That is what she said," says Wolf. Shadow takes his paws off of Wolf's back and sits beside him.
Keeping a wary eye on the highly agitated wolf I reach for my best friend's hand, help him to a sitting position, and sit on his other side. "You remember when you first saw me?"
"Yeah, they were beating you to a pulp."
"Raven says you were a real berserker when you attacked them."
"I don't remember that." says Wolf.
"It's not important. She is important." I point to the tree line where Losau with a full belly stands with Snow, her huge white wolf, Maud's gift to her. I wave her over and she makes her way holding onto Snow's fur. I ask her, "How much longer?"
"Soon, one moon, it is a big child. He will be a brave knight, like Wolf." Losau answers.
It is time to tell them. "I am also happy with child." Wolf gives me a hard stare, but Losau leans over to hug me.
She giggles. "You are brave knight, you will have twins, yes?"
Lord, I hope not. "Yes, twins." I stare back at Wolf and say, "If he is a boy, I will name him, Little Wolf, after his godfather." The smile curling on Wolf's lips is feral; reassuring me he will stick around to take care of Losau. He takes her hand and urges her closer to feel her belly.
I set out in the morning on a mission, my last for the Kaniwa. It is to deflect all outside attention from the location of the Kaniwa. With my family: Upatu, Wana, the children Monell and Kendo, Lady Gay, and Soboro as my new sister, we cross the valley of snakes. There I take a last look at Aurora, the First Tree of the Kaniwa. The once knight is barely recognizable under the fast growth. Wolf swore never to return to the tree and I don't blame him.
I carry a small pouch of Kaniwa gold to act as bait. We will march a hundred miles across several valleys to a village, any village, and there spread the gold before catching the Viking Transport's C-47 cargo plane for our journey home. It is a simple diversion; the Kaniwa will remain hidden in the endless forest.