Many times as Yuta lay flat, motionless in his canoe, he had heard and understood the voices of the Silver Hats. They spoke in dread of mythological dark water ghosts that leapt onto ships in the night. Old Salts laughed at the foolish landlubbers and green sailors, saying words that The Land was devoid of any beings but rich with gold. Gold was a word, he, as yet, could not fully comprehend, but referred to worthless, shiny ornaments of far Inca tribes.
As he neared his home shores. He was growing weary and yearned for the embrace of his close family. Yuta warmed to the thought of his family safe inside their long house of mounded earth within the strongly fortified city of the Micmac. His heart was also laden with a secret. He retained a single item from each of his missions within a long tunnel under the reef. After each giant boat was disposed, he added to his growing cache. He was drawn to a specific totem of the White Faces that they wore in the hollow of their throats, as well as the peculiar shiny tips of their spears. Many years and many prayers had led him to bring his family to the cave to attempt comprehension of the items. Yuta remembered the last time they had come together to discuss his cache.
His oldest son, Burning Ember, recited some of the mysteries to the others. Yuta gave a nearly prideful, sideways glance at Bright Eyes.
“These are the hard, unbreakable spikes that hold the pieces of Big Canoe wood in place!” Burning Ember was speaking too loudly and with too much self-importance. Yuta signaled for him to lower his voice and his disrespectful manner.
Burning Ember softened, “My revered Children, these sharp shiny points are the arrowheads and matching long knives of Silver Hats.” Yuta thought he heard a hint of distress in Burning Ember’s voice. He, too, feared the unbreakable polished points on long spears.
That day, Yuta wished to discuss again his stockpile of pendants in the same shape: two hard silver lines crossed and carried on a peculiarly soft gleaming chains. He had discussed these before with the children and that these were similar to a symbol found in the Hopi lands. He had asked his oldest daughter to speak.
“My feet tremble under me when I hold these disquieting charms. These are powerful totems of the Silvers. As yet, we cannot comprehend the purpose, but we know that nearly all Silver Hats carry them.” The family all clapped politely for the presenters, tapping small shell trinkets sewn into their deerskins.
“Yes, honored Oldest Daughter,” Yuta chimed in. “The men on the Giant Canoes wear these. They hold them in their hands when afraid.” He had felt some of that fear at that moment and his breath hurt in his chest. He was about to commit treason.
More than once, Yuta had eaten of wild mushrooms to commune with Spirits and he had held one of the crossed pendants. It was then he heard again and again the simultaneous, tortured death wail of all the People. He cleared his throat for silence among his throng.
“My Children, this amulet holds powers of Silver Hats. In secret, I wish for you to each take one and carry it under your deerskin in a way that is concealed. It may serve to protect your children’s children from any spirits of evil much like your own totems do.” He grasped his Sea Tortoise shell at his neck. He wished he would have thought this over for another winter.
His son had gasped aloud, even though it was disrespectful.
“Father? Is this not an offense against our Profession?” Burning Ember was strong-willed, even as a child. Yuta glanced at Bright Eyes for support; they had conferred about the topic at length as they knew their time was growing short. Bright Eyes spoke with a conviction she did not possess.
“Your Wise Teacher and Father has provided you with a task. He has spoken with the Spirits and the large sea creatures. If you are able, we reverently appeal that you follow his request. Perhaps, only for a few moments each day. You may do as you are directed in prayer, but none of you may speak of this again except within your families.”
Yuta was attune to Spirits and Bright Eyes trusted him. They would soon go to the clouds together and she wanted no dissention among the family. Yuta’s eyes brimmed with appreciation at the woman who had been chosen for him by his father and uncles. The price they had paid, worth every woven basket and blanket.
“I have been honored to serve as Guardian with your mother by my side as my Seer. She is a woman who has brought me this large and perceptive family,” he pronounced in an emotional state. There was some additional discussion in small groups as they separated after the evening chant:
Be gentle, gentle to the essence
Of our Earth
Near every flower of the field
Treat trees and Beings
As a part of your own body
Our Ancestors live on
In the mouse, in the turtle, in the shark
Give praise for every gift of Mother Earth
Despite darkness and fatigue that night, Yuta could not sleep. For many seasons, he wrestled against a concept that continued to take shape in his mind.
The Nations were made of individual and divergent groups throughout the Land and they were steeped in rituals. They were traditionalists that stood firm in the Ways of Ancestry. New ideas or techniques were not welcomed in the Ways of Alliances. Every motion of their lives was lived in detail, just as their great great grandparents had done.
Soon, Yuta must give his Guardian status to Burning Ember. He was over forty winters and his joints ached as he moved in the cold toward his hearth. The endless paddling in rough waters, the stresses of near death encounters, the bitter cold water at night took a heavy toll on the life span of Guardians.
An observation had dogged him throughout his career. Many, many times he had been near the air of the Silvers’ boats, touched their sharp tools, their pendants, and yet, he had not been taken by Breath Sickness. Perhaps it was because he wore a protective Death Mask that Bright Eyes made for him. Each year, she had added images.
With great courage, Yuta had once spoken at powwow to Peace Chiefs. “Perhaps,” he hinted, “Since we have many words of the Silver Hats, a Guardian should attempt to communicate with the People of the other Lands.” Shouts and War Chants erupted.
“Then, we could send them back to the Land of Too Many Peoples with Knowledge.” Yuta’s final comment was lost in the uproar. This discussion ended with chaos, demonstrations of anger, and fighting displays. Some Leaders were for the idea and some against.
Chief of Peace had called out again and again for order with his drum. Finally, he proclaimed, “To prevent opposing stances among the Tribes, the discussion of speaking directly to a Silver Hat by a Guardian will never be deliberated by this Allied Council.”