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By 1300 AD, the Sky Hand people had crushed and enslaved the Albaamaha people and built their high-walled capital, Split Sky City, to dominate towns up and down the Black Warrior River. But a violent wind is brewing that may topple the city's mighty walls. Great armies are on the march, and a cunning new leader, Smoke Shield, has risen. He will lead the Sky Hand people either to stunning triumph or to bloody doom.
Old White, Trader, and the mystical Two Petals are journeying across the Choctaw lands straight into the chaos. Old White, the Seeker, must play a delicate game of espionage. For Trader the slightest indiscretion--let alone the temptation of forbidden love--could lead to disaster. Two Petals, the Contrary, faces the toughest choice of all : She must betray herself and her friends to Smoke Shield or live forever in the backward grip of madness. And Spirit Power has laid a far deadlier trap for them in the rainbow colors just beneath the rolling surface of the Black Warrior River.
A novel of desperate political intrigue and spiritual power, People of the Thunder once again demonstrates the New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear's mastery of American prehistory. Explore the ancestral heritage of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Yuchi peoples as the majesty and genius of the vanished Mississippian mound builders' civilization comes to life.
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Kathleen O'Neal Gear is a former state historian and archaeologist for Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska for the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has twice received the federal government's Special Achievement Award for ""outstanding management"" of our nation's cultural heritage.
W. Michael Gear holds a master's degree in archaeology and has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants.
Together they have written the North America's Forgotten Past series (People of the Morning Star, People of the Songtrail, People of the Mist, People of the Wolf, among others); and the Anasazi Mysteries series. The Gears live in Thermopolis, WY.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Contrary—the woman once known as Two Petals— walked through the quiet night. Her moccasin-clad feet scuffed the plaza’s trampled surface, the sound of leather on clay like the whisper of distant ghosts. Her straight body moved purposefully, rounded hips swaying. Black flowing hair swung even with her buttocks, and she clutched a beaverhide blanket closely about her shoulders. With each exhalation, she watched her breath fog and rise toward the black, star-encrusted sky. Overhead, the constellations seemed to shimmer and wink against the winter night.
Around her, the great Yuchi capital known as Rainbow City slumbered. Even now the size of the city, with its tall, building- topped mounds, thousands of homes, temples, society houses, and granaries, amazed her. The city’s sleeping soul surrounded her like the low hum of insect wings. She could feel the immensity of it: all those thousands of souls breathing, mired in Dreams, their passions muted by sleep.
This was the western capital of the Yuchi—called the Tsoyaha in their own language. The city had been built on a high bluff overlooking the Tenasee River. The location had been chosen not only because it was well above the worst of the great river’s periodic fl oods, but it was strategically placed just below the river’s bend. Sheer heights on the east and north provided a natural defense, while the western and southern approaches were protected by a tall palisade bolstered by archers’ platforms every twenty paces. Rainbow City controlled passage up and down the Tenasee—the trade route carrying goods between the southeastern and northern river systems.
Though Two Petals had walked in the ghostly ruins of Cahokia and climbed its great mound, Rainbow City left her feeling humbled. Cahokia was a place of dried bones; Rainbow City flexed warm nerve and healthy muscle. It lived, thrived, and bristled with energy.
High temples, palaces, and society houses perched atop square earthen mounds capped by colored clays sacred to the Yuchi. The buildings reminded Two Petals of brooding guardians overlooking the empty plaza. The image was strengthened by steeply pitched thatch roofs that jutted arrogantly toward the heavens. Beyond them lay a packed maze of circular houses, their thickly plastered walls and roofs a uniquely Yuchi architectural form. The dark dwellings hunched in the night, as though weighted by the countless sleeping souls they sheltered.
The Contrary needed but close her eyes in order to sense the occupants. She experienced their Dreams the way an anchored rock knew the river’s current. The weight of their loves, hatreds, lusts, hungers, triumphs, and fears flowed around her. Were she to surrender her control, all of those demanding souls would fi lter past her skin, slip through her ears, nostrils, and mouth. Like permeable soil her body and souls would absorb them. Then, in the manner of a saturated earthen dam, she would slowly give way, carried off in bits, pieces, and streamers by the fl ood.
But I am not earth. No, I am a great stone. I stand resolute, lapped only by the waves of their Dreams. Feel them, washing up against me, seeking a grasp, only to drain away before the next. Two Petals clasped
her arms around her chest, hugging herself for reassurance.
She had come from a small Oneota village in the north, rescued from a charge of witchcraft by Old White. He was the legendary Seeker: the man who had traveled to the four corners of the world. Old White had chosen her to accompany him on this quest to the south. She’d heard of the great cities—places like Red Wing Town—and even seen the abandoned sprawl that had been Cahokia. Nothing had prepared her for this concentration of humanity. On the night of her arrival, the mass of Rainbow City’s humanity had overwhelmed her. The impact had left her comatose, deafened, and paralyzed. Now, by dint of will alone, she barely kept panic at bay.
You must learn to deal with what you have become, Two Petals told herself. Trouble is coming.
She sighed, sensing the perpetual isolation of a person touched by Power. Forget the Dreams of others; her own were frightening enough. Not so many moons past, while in Cahokia, she had been carried away on Sister Datura’s arms—borne off to the Spirit World. The visions she had had of the future remained just behind her eyes, as clear as when she’d first seen them. Were she to beckon, they would come fl owing forward. She would again see the terrible black-souled chief, his hand trembling as it reached out to caress her naked skin. Or know the guilt-stricken eyes of a woman whose bloody hands dripped red spatters onto hard ground while she trembled beneath the twists of fate. In other scenes an angry war chief led a thousand warriors through a deadly and silent forest. And fi nally, swirling water washed over a great scaled hide that shimmered with all the colors of the rainbow.
She fixed on that final image, staring into the serpent’s great crystalline eye, as though looking through time and worlds into another reality. As she did, a faint Song began to fill her souls with a tremolo that echoed from her very bones. The melody rose and fell, lifting her spirits like a leaf on the breeze. Two Petals could feel herself rising, spinning, carried aloft on the vibrant notes. She began to Dance across the hard-packed plaza, arms undulating to the beat, souls swaying in time to her skipping feet. The Song played within her.
Soon, she promised, her body spinning in time to the melody.
As quickly as it had come, the Song faded, leaving her to stand alone and motionless in Rainbow City’s great plaza—but one more of the many shadows that mingled in the night. In that instant she felt utterly destitute.
You are never truly alone, a familiar voice remarked. Over the years, she had grown used to the voices that spoke in her head. Sometimes they told convincingly of things she knew were untrue. Other times, they offered a startling insight into the confused reality around her.
This voice, though, she knew. Two Petals turned, seeing the eerie outline of Deer Man. He stood off to the side, watching her through large liquid- brown eyes. In the beginning, it had bothered her that only she could see him. That Deer Man could be so apparent to her, but not to Trader or Old White, had perplexed her. In the end, she simply accepted Deer Man’s presence as a manifestation of her Contrary Power. Half-man, half-deer, he had a human face; deer antlers and ears sprouted from his head, and the sleek hair that covered his body could have graced a buck’s winter hide.
Frowning, she studied him, wondering how he managed to balance on those slender deer legs that ended in delicately hoofed feet, or why he never left tracks in the soft dust or silty mud. Why the oddity of it continued to puzzle her was elusive. He was after all a Spirit Being. She often had seen him standing on water, waves washing through his feet, and other times with his nether regions passing through some object like a pestle and mortar, cane wall, or fallen log. As with so many of the voices that spoke to her, or the Spirits, ghosts, and other oddities she saw, she had wondered if Deer Man were real.
Real? Deer Man asked, hearing her thoughts. Are any of them real? Old White? Trader? The Kala Hi’ki? He paused. Are you real, Contrary?
She tightened her arms around her, feeling the warm beaverhide cape, aware of the soft swell of her breasts, of the skin, muscle, and ribs beneath. The rise and fall of her chest with each breath she took reassured her.
I am. At least for this moment. She frowned. Can’t say for sure about tomorrow... or yesterday. Sometimes the world slips and shifts around me. It just up and moves, and I lose track of what’s what. Who’s whom. Things become muddled and rushed. Then, when it all stops, I’m not sure where I am, or how I got there.
Come. Let me show you something. Deer Man turned, walking off toward the south.
Two Petals followed, head cocked as she watched his hoofed feet. Though Deer Man took long steps, his hooves never seemed to make actual contact with the earth; and though he moved at her speed, his feet seemed to be making faster progress than he was.
How do you do that?
The same way every other creature does, he answered. It is no different than the way you move backward in time.
Two Petals didn’t answer. So many things were riddles. That the world ran backward around her was just one more.
Still bothers you, doesn’t it?
That you’re Contrary. That you can never be normal like Trader, Old White, or anyone else.
She nodded. A part of me, way deep down inside, still wants to be like normal people. But it is growing smaller and smaller. Soon, as we get closer to the end, it will shrink away completely. All that will be left is the Contrary. Two Petals will have been like a raindrop in the sunlight.
The Kala Hi’ki has helped. I can see it in you: a strength that you didn’t know you possessed.
She remembered the night when she, Trader, and Old White had first landed at Rainbow City. She had been frightened, overwhelmed by the images of a future that soon would be her past. The flood of souls around her had washed over and through her, drowning and suffocating. She wasn’t sure exactly what had happened, but Trader had told her later that she’d cried out and fallen over. He said that she’d turned as stiff as wood, her muscles and joints locked and immovable. He’d carried her to the Kala Hi’ki’s temple like some sort of oddly shaped log. All she remembered was a thick blackness until she’d awakened in the Kala Hi’ki’s room. The terror of it was still too close.
Power had brought her here. Well, Power and the Kala Hi’ki’s not-too-friendly and well- armed warriors. During her long trip southward from her native Oneota lands, she’d caught glimpses of the Kala Hi’ki. Even as far away as Cahokia, she had seen him in her visions: a terrible man covered with burn s...
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