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Excerpt: "Legacy"

Chapter 6


Spring 1784

It was springtime, and the camp that Chief Matoskah had chosen for his tribe was a good one. There was a river nearby, and the women were already at work repairing the tipis from the hardships
of winter-the linings had been washed and set out to dry in the sun. There were small groups making clothing for the summer months and following winter, and the children were running and laughing and playing all around them. Chief Matoskah's tribe was one of the largest of the Dakota Sioux, and he was thought to be the wisest chief in their nation. Stories of his youth, bravery in battle, victories against their enemies, and his prowess on horseback and hunting buffalo were legion. His five sons were all equally respected, all were proud men, married, and had children of their own. Two would be leading the first buffalo hunt of the season the following morning. Chief Matoskah, White Bear, was old now, but still ruled his tribe with wisdom, strength, and when necessary an iron fist.
His one weakness, and the joy and light of his life, was Wachiwi, the daughter born to him by his second wife. His first wife had died of an illness in a winter camp, during a war with the Pawnee. He had come home from a raid, and found her already wrapped in a buffalo robe, on a funeral scaffold, her still form covered with snow. He had grieved for a long time. She had been a good woman, and given him five brave sons.
It was many winters before White Bear married again, and the girl he chose was the most beautiful in their village. She was younger than his sons. He could have had many women, several wives at one time, as many of the men did, but he had always preferred to live with one. The bride he chose finally, giving her father twenty of his best horses for her, as a gesture of respect for her family, was barely more than a child, but she was wise and strong, and so beautiful that his heart sang each time he saw her. Her name was Hotah Takwachee, White Doe, and she looked like one to him.
They had only three seasons together when she bore him their first child, his only daughter. Her mother came to help her when the child was born in the early days of autumn. The baby was born, bright and beautiful and perfect, at dawn. Her mother was dead by nightfall. White Bear was alone again, with White Doe's tiny girl child. Other women in the village nursed her and cared for her, and she lived in the tipi with her father. But White Bear took no wife again. He hunted with his sons, and sat in the lodge with them late into the night, smoking the pipe, and planning raids on their enemies and hunts. And although he could not admit it openly because she was a girl, he took endless pleasure in his daughter, who delighted him constantly. Sometimes he would walk in the woods with her, and he taught her to ride himself. She was the most fearless rider in the village, and rode better than most of the men. Her skill as a rider was well known throughout the neighboring tribes. Even their enemies
had heard of the dancing daughter of the chief who had magic powers over horses. White Bear was proud of her, and as she grew older, she was always at his side.
White Bear received his first marriage offer for her shortly after her rites of womanhood, from a distinguished brave older than her brothers. He was a fierce warrior and excellent hunter who already had two wives and several children, but Wachiwi had caught his eye. He came to play the flute outside their tipi repeatedly, and Wachiwi never emerged, which was a sign to him that she was not interested in him, and when he began leaving blankets, food, and finally in desperation a hundred horses outside their lodge for her, his offer of marriage was official, and eventually declined by his prospective bride. She insisted to her father that she didn't want to leave him, and remembering only too well what had happened to her mother in childbirth, White Bear couldn't bring himself to part with her either, at least not yet. He knew that she would have to marry eventually. She was too pretty and lively not to, but he wanted her with him for a few more years before she took on the responsibilities of a wife and all that went with it. He wasn't ready to give her up. She was the oldest
unmarried girl in the tribe by her seventeenth summer, but she was the daughter of the chief. And by then, finally, she had become interested in a young brave her age. He had no important war raids
or hunting parties where he had distinguished himself exceptionally yet, and she and her father both knew that he still had to prove himself further in battle and in the buffalo hunts, but in the next year or
two he would. Wachiwi was prepared to wait for him till then, and her father was pleased. He would be a suitable husband for her one day, and in the meantime Wachiwi could stay with her father. He was in no hurry for young Ohitekah to win her hand, but White Bear knew that day would come. Hopefully, not too soon. And Wachiwi was only too happy to remain at her father's side. She was entirely her father's girl, fussed over and protected not only by him but by her brothers.
As the spring progressed, there were horse races and demonstrations. Wachiwi was allowed to enter them because her father was chief and she rode better, harder, faster, and more dangerously than most of the young men. Her brothers loved to place bets on her and were ecstatic when she won. Their father had taught her well, and her brothers added their own tricks to what she learned, so they
could win their bets on her. She was a fearsome rider and rode like the wind. And whenever she finished the races, or rode with her brothers, she noticed Ohitekah nearby, but as propriety demanded of her, she never looked him directly in the eye, nor any man. She was always circumspect and well behaved, although high spirited and brave. Her father always said that if she had been a man, she would have been a great warrior, but he was far happier that she was a girl. She was affectionate with him, took care of him, and served him well as a loving daughter.
She loved to laugh with her brothers and they teased her endlessly. Ohitekah would enter into it sometimes, and obviously admired her, and even in their joking and games with her brothers, he treated her with great respect.
As spring led into summer, the hunting parties formed. Hunts for elk and buffalo helped them lay in the stores for winter, and Wachiwi helped the other women make clothes. She did beautiful beading that some of the older women had taught her, and she carefully added porcupine quills to her clothes in intricate patterns. Because of her status, she was able to wear her clothes as ornately as she chose, and even added beads to her moccasins. And often, she dyed the quills in brilliant colors before she sewed them onto her elkskin dresses.
There were tribal dances as the weather grew warm, and long, pleasant evenings as the men sat around the fires and smoked the pipe. There were always sentries protecting the camp too, since
war raids were common in summer, to steal horses and furs, or even women. And occasionally they met with other tribes to trade. Wachiwi got a beautiful new blanket on one of those visits, and a
new elkskin dress that one of her brothers traded a buffalo hide for, and he got her a second elkskin dress in the trade, trimmed in fur for the following winter. Everyone agreed that Wachiwi was the luckiest girl in the tribe, with five adoring brothers and a doting father. It was no wonder that she didn't want a husband. But her interest in Ohitekah seemed to be growing, and on one hot night, he came to play the flute outside their lodge, and this time Wachiwi came outside, which was a clear sign to him that his courtship was welcome, although she kept her eyes riveted to the ground, and her gaze well away from his.
His parents had been rebuilding their lodge recently, which was also an indication that a marriage proposal would be forthcoming, and bride gifts would be left for her outside her father's tipi soon, maybe at the change of seasons, or at their winter camp. And they also knew that their son had to prove himself in the hunt and on the battlefield first. But that time was coming soon. The big buffalo hunts had begun.
White Bear and his sons were returning to camp one warm day after just such a major hunt. Ohitekah had come with them and had done well. The buffalo were plentiful, and they had killed many. There was to be a celebration in camp that night. They were riding back, talking and laughing with each other when one of the young boys in camp rode out to them. He said that a war party of Crow had raided the camp, and were already riding away. They had taken horses, and several of their women, mostly young ones, to give to their chief. Without asking for further details, White Bear and his sons and the other men rode hard for the camp. Most of the Crow were gone by then, except for three stragglers, who turned to shoot at White Bear and his men. White Bear wasn't injured, but two of his sons fell instantly and lay dead, and Ohitekah lay beside them, brothers in death now, and not by marriage as the young boy and Wachiwi had hoped. The Sioux men rode into camp just in time to see the three Crow disappearing, and one of them had Wachiwi, bound and tied, looking wild eyed as she shouted to her father. The Crow took off like lightning, but she had already seen her brothers and
Ohitekah killed. She was shouting, and fighting her captors, but even her tribe's fastest horses could not catch them. They rode as fast as they could for hours after her, to bring her back to her father, and
they returned late that night, worn out and deeply chagrined. They had not been able to save her. The Crow who had her had ridden like the wind. White Bear had been waiting up for them, and he cried like a child when they returned without her. And as though someone had cast a spell on him, as he keened for his lost child he visibly shrank and became an old man. His soul was broken. He had lost two of his sons to the Crow, and the child of his heart. Nothing could console him.
War parties went out the next day, looking for the Crow encampment, but they had come from far away. They too were part of the Dakota nation, but had a long history of wars and raids on the Sioux, and taking the chief's daughter was a major victory for them. White Bear knew only too well that even if they found them, they would never give her back. Wachiwi was gone forever. And more than likely she would be given to their chief as a slave or wife. Her days of freedom and being adored and protected by her father and brothers were over. She belonged to the Crow now. And no one knew it better than her father. He couldn't bear the thought. He walked slowly into his tipi alone, saw the place where she had slept across from him for her entire life, her elkskin dresses carefully folded, even the new one trimmed in fur. He lay down in the place where he slept, his eyes closed, seeing her in his mind as he knew he would forever, and waited to die. He hoped it wouldn't take long for the Great Spirits to take him. Without Wachiwi at his side, he had nothing more to live for. His spirit died within him the day she left.

Excerpted from Legacy by Danielle Steel Copyright © 2010 by Danielle Steel. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Bantam Dell, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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