By the light of a full moon, Stays At Home, known to her village as Abequa, wandered among the tents and lodges, two large red clay jars now empty, braced against her hips. She smiled as from the dwellings all about her she could hear muffled cries of small children being sung to sleep, snorts of sleeping old men, and quiet murmurings. But now and then she chanced to overhear the breathless dance of mating. To these sounds she turned a deaf ear. To listen brought longing. To feel longing brought pain . . . and shame.
There had been much excitement in the village today. Namid, Star Dancer, had been spoken for by Little Wolf, Honiahaka. At the rising of the sun Honiahaka had presented three horses to her father as a bride price. It was an extravagant offer. The celebration would take place tomorrow. Then Honiahaka would move into Namid’s lodge.
Abequa hurried to the edge of the village where she could just see the outline of the well. Her steps slowed as she came near, praying no one was about at this late hour. She came not at the customary time in the early morning with the others to draw water. She could no longer bear the taunts of the young women, nor the stares of the men who wandered about seeking a mate, pulling braids, splashing water at the laughing girls. Even in the dark with no one about she hung her head in shame.
She was homely, and bigger than the other girls. Shy, and skitterish, it mattered not that she was a good cook, that she knew nature’s herbalore well, nor that she was Lean Bear’s — Chief Avonaco’s daughter. No brave wanted to be “saddled with a horse of a woman,” or so she’d been told by Namid. She had seen 26 winters come and go, and after all this time her heart had lost hope in the thought of her own home.
Abequa set the jars down on the lip of the well. She lowered the bucket into the black void of the water, the rope becoming taut when it was full. With an ease born of hard work, she pulled it back up and began filling her jars. As she worked, Abequa hummed a lullaby her mother had oft sung to her. Before long she was singing quietly under her breath.
He approached from the west, leading his pony so as not to disturb those sleeping in the village. He wanted only water to drink for himself and Webago, then he would be on his way to his own village. Slung over his shoulder was a brace of rabbits for his father Ehane. Tall Bull, called Otoahhastis, heard the voice before he saw the one singing. It was pure and clear and reminded him of the songs sung by his grandmother. He marveled at the beauty of it. He paused and listened and his heart filled near to bursting.
In the full moon light he saw her then. Long, shiny black braids hanging down her back, and eyes as wide as the moon itself. He admired the way in which she hauled the water, not tiring from the weight of the bucket. Here, he thought, was a woman of great worth, one used to work. Her mate was truly blessed to have her. But it was her voice that captivated him. He watched her full lips as she sang quietly to herself and wondered why she should be out here this time of night fetching water alone. Not wishing to startle her, he scuffed his feet loudly enough in the dirt for her to hear.
Abequa, sensing his approach, emptied the bucket for the last time and turned to him. He had a kind face. She sensed no threat from this stranger.
“Welcome,” she said. “You look. . .dusty and thirsty.”
“I am that,” Otoahhastis replied. “I stop only for a drink for myself and my horse.”
Abequa inclined her head and lowered the bucket into the well one last time. The young brave untied a wineskin from his belt and dipped it into the bucket to fill. Then Abequa placed the bucket on the ground that the horse might drink its fill.
“I thank you,” the brave said. “I am Otoahhastis son of Ehane of the village beside the big water. I’ve been hunting. Without much luck,” he chuckled, pointing to the small brace of rabbits.
Abequa smiled. “They are fine, big rabbits, and your woman will make a hearty stew from them.”
Oto smiled. “I have no woman. Only my father.” He chuckled again, “And neither one of us can cook very well!”
Together they laughed. They talked by the well for some time. Oto was amazed to find that Abequa was not mated. When he asked her why she was fetching water at this late hour, her response surprised him, for it had not occurred to him she was anything but beautiful.
As for Abequa, it was Oto’s wit and kind words that drew her to him. She marveled at his knowledge of the world, his curiosity, his settled disposition. So at ease was she with him that not once had she stopped to consider his person.
Dawn was waking when Oto took his leave and moved on toward his village. Abequa returned to her lodge. She thought her father might be wondering where she’d been for so long, but he slept soundly on his pallet in his tent. She smiled to herself thinking of her time with the young brave. Never before could she remember not feeling embarrassed in the company of a man.
Only a day earlier Abequa’s heart would have felt sad toward the coming celebration for Namid and Honiahaka. Her father would oversee the festive evening, and Abequa couldn’t help but think of how he wished his own daughter could find a mate and have a home of her own. To her surprise, however, it had been exciting. The fire, the dancing, the drinking, the smoking, Namid’s beautiful dress. And at last the young couple had been carried to their lodge. In her heart where resentment had always dwelt, Abequa wished them well. She was not sure what had changed to soften her so.
The next morning the sun had just risen as Abequa crossed the common ground of the village to fetch some wood for the fire. Namid was leaving her lodge as well. She ignored Abequa’s greeting as always. But suddenly both women were startled by the sound of hoof beats. Many horses were approaching. All over the village men sprang from their lodges and tents ready to confront the approaching men. But to their surprise the intruder was only one man followed by a string of horses — ten horses.
Abequa drew in a sharp breath as she recognized Otoahhastis. He stopped short of her and smiled at her upturned face. Then looking around the village he said loudly, “I wish to speak to Chief Avonaco.”
The crowd that had gather in front of Avonaco’s tent drew apart as the tall, weathered chieftain stooped through the opening.
“I am Avonaco, Cheyenne Chief of the village. What business you have here?”
Oto slipped gracefully from Webago, the rope to the line of horses still in his hand. He bowed in greeting to the Chief. Everything in him wanted to turn aside and look once more on Abequa where she stood next to the new bride, but he restrained himself. This was business, and he must show respect.
“I am Otoahhastis, son of Chief Ehane of the village by the big water. I have come to ask for the hand of Abequa, daughter of Chief Avonaco. I wish her to be my bride.”
Abequa’s hands began to shake. She gathered fists of her dress in them to make them still. Namid looked at her in disbelief.
Turning, Oto stretched out his hand toward the string of ponies. “I am willing to pay the bride price of ten horses for this woman.”
Chief Avonaco could barely contain his amazement at the bride price nor his joy for his daughter. Curious he asked, “How do you know this woman?”
Oto smiled and looked at last upon the face of the woman he loved. “Her song called me to her, and she gave me water and happiness.”
Bemused, Chief Avonaco grunted with a smile and extended his hand. Taking the rope from Otoahhastis he spoke out loudly and with great delight. “It is done.”
All eyes in the village turned and looked upon Abequa. They wondered how someone so homely could have won the heart of an Indian Chief’s son. Even more, they wondered at the great bride price the brave had paid. Never before had any woman from the village been held in such regard.
As time passed Abequa and Oto returned to the village often to visit Lean Bear bringing with with them a beautiful grandson, Little Bull. And it seemed most strange to the people of the village that they had ever thought her homely, for her beauty shone out as the rays of the sun through a rain-washed sky. The music she had learned in the shame of her solitude revealed her true name. She was Home. From the place of dryness she discovered the living water within her. Tears, like seeds planted in the place of sadness, blossomed and exuded the perfume of her happiness becoming a blessing to all. And in the singing she found one who understood and was captivated by the song of her soul.
And so it was, though all in her village continued to call her Abequa, Stays At Home, in Oto’s village she was known as Ninovan, Our Home, for everyone in that place had found a home in her heart.
With that the story teller paused, silent, ghostly, holy in the flickering firelight. None gathered round the fire spoke though they’d heard the story many times. The only sound was the crackling of red hot embers singing on their slow journey to ash. Smoke from smoldering logs weaved its magic in and about them, their eyes tearing with thick mist – and with tenderness. The smell of burning leaves filled their noses and settled as a bitter powder on their tongues.
The storyteller turned his face toward the
door of his lodge where stood his wife. For a few more moments he remained silent, remembering the melody he’d first heard her sing. Then Tall Bull turned back to the circle of listeners. “And that is how our land got it’s name. Abequa has taught us to sing our own song if we would ever find our way Home.”
(Written by Calen with some wise words in the ending by her buddy Plato’s Groove.)