Excerpt from Pale as the Moon

Gray Squirrel heard the colt's loud whinnying and walked out of the marsh toward the clump of myrtle bushes. At first the large dark mass looked like a bear, but the young Paspatank girl knew bears did not sound like that. She watched and moved closer. Now she could see that it was a horse.

The colt stood motionless. She could feel his huge dark eyes fixed on her. She bent over to snatch a handful of grass. Arm outstretched with her offering, she stepped a bit closer, but when she took another step the horse tossed his head, turned, and galloped over the dunes and out of sight.

Gray Squirrel’s grandmother, White Deer, called, "What are you doing? Come help me gather more thatch. There will be time to play after we are done."

The girl obediently rejoined the group and began cutting more grass. "Did you see him?" Gray Squirrel pointed where the colt had been standing. "Did you hear him? He sounded so afraid. Where do you think the rest of his family is? Why was he without his mother?"

"He will find his way back." White Deer spoke softly. "Think of him no more. We have much work to do to rebuild our wickiup."

Gray Squirrel felt sad for the little colt, lost and motherless. She too had been separated from her mother, who had died when Gray Squirrel was just a baby. Though she missed her mother, she loved White Deer with all of her heart. Her grandmother was an important woman in their town. She had knowledge of healing herbs, and her wisdom earned her honor and esteem among all of the Paspatank people.

The hurricane had destroyed most of the Paspatank’s camp. Gray Squirrel knew they were very fortunate that no one had been injured. She had taken refuge with her grandmother under an overturned dugout canoe.

Her bundle was heavy as she carried it back to the site, but Gray Squirrel hardly noticed. All she could think about was the bay colt. She had seen horses before, but never one this close.

She had heard many stories about how horses came to live on these islands. They were left there long ago by strangers who had come looking for gold and precious stones. She would ask her grandfather, Black Feather, to tell the stories again tonight.

The barrier islands were not the permanent home of the Paspatank. Their town was further inland. Gray Squirrel had come with her family to fish and dry the catch in the sun to preserve it for the winter. During the summer, they cast long nets into the ocean and together pulled them in, heavy with many fish. The fish were cut into thin strips and hung on drying racks. When they’d caught and dried enough, the tribe moved back to the main village.

By late afternoon, the repairs to the camp were completed and the family ate their supper. "Tell me about the horses, Grandfather!" Gray Squirrel loved the stories Black Feather told around the evening fire.

"They were brought here many years ago, in the days when your father was about your age," Black Feather began. "Men came in great boats from across the ocean. Their skin was very light, and they dressed in colorful garments and had frightening and powerful weapons. The men brought swine and cattle for food, but they did not eat the horses. Horses were their brothers, and carried the men from place to place. This was how the horses shared their strength and speed.

"These men searched for gold and precious stones. They were greedy and cruel people. When they could not find the riches they wanted, they kidnapped our children and sold them for slaves. Your mother’s sister was one of those children. She was never seen again after the white men took her.

"The tribal councils met and warriors came from all over the land to drive the bad men back to their ships. They sailed away in such fear that they left their animals behind. The horses still roam the islands to the north."

"I saw one today," Gray Squirrel exclaimed. "He must be separated from his mother. I heard him crying and could see the fear in his eyes. Grandfather, I want this horse to be my brother and carry me like the wind." The words tumbled out of Gray Squirrel like a waterfall.

Black Feather looked amused. "The horses are wild like the deer. You will never get close enough to climb on that young one’s back. Enough storytelling, child. Go to sleep."

Sleep was slow in coming to the little girl. Her thoughts were filled with plans about how to win the trust of the dark colt with the half-moon on his forehead. When she finally fell asleep, she dreamed of him whinnying from the top of the tall sand dunes. Tomorrow she would find this horse that called to her in the wind.

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