The people of the island of the swallow were the first to catch sight of Him returned, of His brown dragons on the sea and His golden warriors sparkling on the beach at sunset. And the people of the island of the swallow were the first to feel His wrath, the wrath of the wind, which comes to those who march against it. They called him the pale God; the feathered serpent.
It was a different people, not far from the island of the swallow, who welcomed the pale God into their rich land near the center of the world, who brought him gifts of gold and women, and to whom he brought good fortune and good weather in return.
Soon after His arrival, His dragons breathed fire and dove back into the sea, and on that same day, in the village of true crosses in the rich land near the center of the world, a woman became pregnant by Him, and nine months later gave birth to his pale daughter.
The God did not stay in the village of true crosses to see his daughter born. Instead, he flew with the wind from village to village toward the center of the world, to the city of the stone cactus, to take back his throne and teach his people the truth of the pale world.
The God never knew his daughter, but she knew Him through her mother and the people of her village. For they told her of His greatness, and treated her as they treated Him when He was there.
The girl grew up and became a great woman; too great for any of the suitors that would ever call on her in her village, and it was not long before word of her greatness traveled across the land, and men came great distances to try for her hand.
Years passed, and the woman could find no man to match her, and on the morn of her thirtieth birthday she would follow the wind from the village of true crosses to find the hand of a man that was as perfect as hers. She was the daughter of the pale God, and she was called Pale Feather. This is the tale of her search through the land near the center of the world for a man worthy of her love.
On the night before Pale Feather left her village there was a ceremony in her and her father’s honor. The men of the village made their last efforts to sway her heart during the dances and at the table during the feast, but she showed no interest in any of them. And as the morning stars came up from behind the eastern sea, all had retired to their huts but three men and Pale Feather.
Two of the men were fishermen, Green Scales and Shimmering Smoke, father and son. They offered to take Pale Feather wherever she pleased on their boat, and to fish for her, as long as they would be allowed to stay in her presence. And she agreed to let them come.
The third man was Thirsty Wolf, a hunter. He offered his strength and his knife in exchange for the continued chance to earn her love. And she agreed to let him come.
“Collect what you think you would need for a journey with me, I will be at the boat.”
The two fishermen went up the trail to their house.
Thirsty Wolf checked his dagger and walked with Pale Feather to the beach.
“Why do we take a boat?” he said. “Where do you think you will go?”
“By my father’s wind I will go where I am taken, and I will know what I seek when I find it. Is the sea not to your liking?”
“It has not been, in the past. I prefer the dirt and the leaves where I can find meat or fruit. But I will bear the water for you.”
They rowed out over the water heading north with the wind, keeping the thin canoe a ways off shore where the waves were less sharp and could glide over the flat water like a bird. Yet Thirsty Wolf struggled to keep his composure, and became sick.
Shimmering Smoke slapped Thirsty Wolf on his bare back, and said, “Feel the wind in your hair and the ocean at your fingertips! There is no finer place than this, and we could have no finer company than she!”
As they went up the coast, Pale Feather watched the treetops by the shore, and by mid day the wind changed and the leaves looked to be pulled from the west. “Beach there by that village,” she said, “father pulls us into the land.”
“You would leave the sea so soon?” asked Shimmering Smoke.
“And our boat?”
“I would leave that too, but if you would rather carry it, or turn back with it….”
They beached and left the boat. The village was quiet; their thoughts turned to food and lodging.
“I will catch us a great fish, big enough to feed the village!” said Shimmering Smoke, walking in the direction of a nearby river with his spear.
“I will gather fruit and meat. You will feast by my hands tonight and every night!” said Thirsty Wolf, grasping his knife and running into the forest.
“I suppose I will find us wine…fire…a place to sleep,” said Green Scales.
Pale Feather stood alone at the center of the village, feeling her hair in the wind, and as the wind died a young man walked up. She looked into his pretty face, and said, “What is your name?”
The boy cleared his throat and said, “White-tailed Deer.” His high voice suited him, and Pale Feather seemed not to notice his youth; only that the wind had stopped blowing, and that he had come when it did.
“Will you join us for dinner tonight White-tailed Deer? I do not know where we will eat or what we will make, but I would like your company.”
“I will gladly join you.”
Pale Feather smiled, and the wind picked up again, and she let it carry her out of the village and into the forest.
The sun sunk in the sky. Green Scales was the first to come back into the shady center of the village, and shortly after came Thirsty Wolf, empty handed, from the forest.
“The forest here is frustrating; I found no meat and no fruit,” said Thirsty Wolf.
Green Scales nodded. “I found no roof, no wine, and no fire. The people here take harshly to beggars, and care not to make new friends at all.”
Pale Feather walked into town with her white blouse stained red, and the two men rushed to her side to see if she was injured, but she smiled and raised her hand to ease their concern. “There is a boar a ways up the trail, it was too large for me to carry alone.”
White-tailed Deer rushed from his home to Pale Feather, and seeing the worried look on his face, she said, “I am alright, it isn’t my blood.”
Green Scales and Thirsty Wolf dragged the giant beast from the shadows of the forest, through the shadows of the village, and dropped it at Pale Feather’s feet.
“Is Shimmering Smoke not returned?” asked Pale Feather.
“He will not return until he has caught what he has set out for,” said Green Scales. “He promised you a great fish and he will bring you one.”
“And have we a place to stay the night and cook our dinner?”
Green Scales looked at his feet and shook his head, no.
“Come and stay at my house,” said White-tailed Deer, motioning toward his home. “I will cook your boar and serve you wine and you can sleep around my fire.” And so they did. They cooked and ate and drank, and the men’s desire for Pale Feather grew with every sip, and Thirsty Wolf and White-tailed Deer became livid and wild and played in the tent like children, wrestling to win the favor of Pale Feather.
Green Scales and Pale Feather watched from the side of the room, and Green Scales whispered in her ear, “You could not have eyes for these boys; you need a man that will sit with you and make you comfortable. If you would have me as your husband I could give you this. Do you not want to be comfortable and happy?”
She did not have eyes for the boys. She leaned her face close to his ear and whispered back, “I do want to be comfortable and happy, but I seek more than just those things. To be honest, I do not know that I could be comfortable or happy with just a boy or just a man. Tell me, does a man find interest in any of the lesser creatures? A fish, for example? I mean you no offense, but I am the daughter of a God, could I find happiness in a man? I fear I cannot, and so I follow the wind where my father would take me, in search of a man like me, born of the Gods or chosen by them.”
The young men grew tired from their wrestling and drinking and soon slept on the floor. Green Scales and Pale Feather stayed by the fire awhile waiting for Shimmering Smoke to return.
“I am getting worried,” said Green Scales.
“He is coming…”
A noise came from outside on the road; the shuffling of feet under a heavy weight. Green Scales opened the way and looked out into the blue darkness, at two men carrying a limp body between them. “Shimmering Smoke…” he said.
The men turned and looked at Green Scales in the bright yellow opening, with Shimmering Smoke hanging lifeless in their arms. They brought him inside and lay him by the fire.
Pale Feather knelt by him and listened for his heart and heard no beat, heard no breath. He lay cold, wet, stiff.
One of the men spoke, “We are sorry, we could do nothing to save him.”
“Why would the winds do this to a boy that has pledged to accompany me on my journey?” said Pale Feather, her brow growing wrinkled, her pale skin glowing red and hot. She thrust her fists on the dead boy’s chest, and his limp body shook. She leaned over him and looked into his lifeless eyes, breathed the wind into his lifeless mouth, and sucked out the evil spirits that must have poisoned him. He coughed, and the water he had swallowed came up from his lungs and it was black and thick and ran down the side of his face like tar. He breathed. The men in the room stood frozen and unblinking. She touched the boy’s forehead and told him, “Sleep,” and he slept. Then she turned to the two men at the door and said, “Thank you for bringing him to us, he will be alright.”
The two men stood dumb in the open doorway, by her power and by her beauty.
The fire died down, and they all went to sleep.
The next morning, before the others woke, Pale Feather left the house to wash in the river. As she stepped outside, she found the two men that had rescued Shimmering Smoke laying by the door.
One of the men stood up and brushed his long hair back on his bare shoulders, flung himself in front of Pale Feather and gently took her hand. His soft voice rose in his mouth from a hum, and as he opened his mouth and sung the words of his song they came in a deep, strong melody that swirled around her with the breeze. When the tune was finished she smiled and asked the man his name.
“I am Singing Ox. Where have you come from and where are you going? What can I do to forever be near you?”
“Your song was beautiful, if you have more you may come wherever I go.”
The other man scratched his back and looked at Pale Feather as if she were an old friend. Falling to his knees, he held her hands by her fingertips, over his head. She pulled him up gently and he spoke, “I am Wishing Star, shaman and healer. I fear I have no service to offer you that you cannot provide yourself, but still I wish to be with you forever and always. I would follow you to the end of the world if you asked.”
“You are in good fortune Wishing Star, as the wind presently blows in the opposite direction of the end of the world, and I follow it. Your respect and spirit are enlightening, and I would like for you to come with us… But first, I go to the river to wash, would you please excuse me?”
The men nodded and Pale Feather went off to bathe.
In her absence the six men gathered around the fire to eat and share stories. When Pale Feather returned, she heard Singing Ox tell the others of a massacre at the ruined city in the navel of the moon.
Pale Feather said, “What is this massacre? In the heart of my father’s city…”
The men stood up to greet her and Singing Ox came forward first. “I heard a man from the north say it is all in ruins.”
“And the massacre?”
“He said the lake is filled with bones and the buildings stained with blood.”
“A fools story…. My father would let no such thing happen under his rule.”
“I do not know that I believe him,” said Singing Ox, “but it is the story he told. I did not mean to offend you or your father.”
The room fell silent and Pale Feather turned and stepped outside. “Come, the wind blows to the city in the navel of the moon, perhaps you will see for yourself the lies you’ve been told.”
They walked in pairs and took turns walking up front with Pale Feather.
“Are you feeling better?” Pale Feather said, putting her hand on Shimmering Smoke’s shoulder.
“I am ashamed.”
“Do not feel shame, you are a man, and men are not perfect. I do not expect you or the others to always provide for me what you say you would.”
“I’ll not fail you again.” Shimmering Smoke sighed, and fell silent.
A while later, Thirsty Wolf said, “Switch me up quick Shimmering Smoke,” and came up to the front of the line and spoke eagerly to Pale Feather. “Let me go on ahead and find camp and food, I should like to show you what I meant to show you yesterday.”
“You need not prove anything to me, but do as you wish, you are not bound.”
Thirsty Wolf darted off on the trail grasping his dagger in its hilt.
Pale Feather grew tired of conversation, and called Singing Ox up to the front, “Sing us a hymn to ease our steps, we would do well with that.”
They walked to Singing Ox’s songs for the rest of the day, and saw smoke rising into the sky a ways up the path at sunset. Thirsty Wolf had caught dinner and made camp, and the party of seven ate merrily and slept comfortably beneath the stars.
The wind took them toward the center of the world each day, and each day they came closer to the city of the stone cactus at the navel of the moon. But Pale Feather had become silent and no longer cared to show interest in any of the men. They spent most nights in villages and each morning set back on the path with more men in their party than the night before.
On a night many nights after their departure from White-tailed Deer’s seaside village, the party had grown to an army, and each member of the army sought time and attention from Pale Feather. This overwhelmed her, and that night she called the hundreds from their campfires to gather round, and she spoke as kindly to them as she could, “I fear I have mislead you all. You stand before me, behind and around me, wishing to stand beside me. But I never intended to choose any of you for a husband. I allowed you to accompany me as entertainment and comfort, and it has been a welcome experience to feel your love and warmth, but I cannot return the love you offer me. The wind continues to guide me west, toward my love, and I do not wish to string any of you along. None of you are him. I must ask you all to return to your villages and let me continue on my own.”
The men stood silent for a long time after she finished speaking, then turned silently into the darkness. Some turned and went to their fires, others left for their homes straight away.
Pale Feather left camp before dawn with the wind howling through the canyons and the trees; her pace was as swift and steady as a bird in the open air. Being alone on the trail was new to her. She enjoyed it more, being able to pay attention to the world around her, and for the first time in her life she realized she’d met something of equal beauty and power; the land…the world….
She came over the high crest of the mountain overlooking the south end of the valley of the navel of the moon at sunset; the city of the stone cactus lay far down, on an island at the center of a great lake there. Darkness came, and she made camp overlooking the lush valley and water. The white light of the moon reflected off the great lake at the center of the world, but as the sky darkened the city darkened as well. No torch, no flame, no light. Pale Feather sat the whole night watching for light, but none came.
When morning finally came it came to Pale Feather’s tired misery. Her eyes burned and teared as she stumbled down the mountainside, into the valley, toward the ruined city, her father’s fallen empire.
As she came into the city the wind blew down into it, and she followed it between the great stone buildings and throughout the thin stone streets, but it seemed only to lead her around and around… In circles, until she began to question the wind itself. She fell down in the street, with her palms in her eyes, and cried, and slept. She slept all day in the shadows of the stone buildings at the center of the ruined city, her world shattered. And when she woke she sat a long time, thinking about all that had happened, about all she believed. When she stood, and turned back toward home, she said to herself, “I have been mistaken,” and then continued, “perhaps it is ok.”