As they traveled deeper into the interior of the Land, Deramo saw more species of animals and plants than he could have imagined. He labored to remember their names and purposes. He created a log book of sorts, pressing leaves and flowers between birch parchment, sketching names with the end of a bird feather in ash.
Although Yuta felt this displayed a little progress, Deramo still bumbled about in the woods like a bear dizzy from wild mushrooms. It would not suffice. He must learn to race through grass, underbrush and trees as fast as a deer and quiet as the pika. This mass of leaves and flowers he carried about in his pack was weighing him down.
A game of hide and seek was called for, just like parents used with their youth. Yuta signaled, “Watch me. I will hide like a ringed squirrel. Come. Find me.”
Deramo watched as Yuta disappeared into the rocks and hickory trees. For a long, terrified time, he searched but could not find him, even though Yuta left tracks obvious enough for a child of seven winters: broken twigs, rolled rocks, imprints. Deramo feared he had committed an offense to the Spirit and abandonment was excruciating to him; near tears, he knelt to the carpeted forest floor and began the chant of apology. Yuta appeared instantly, he did not want any noise so close to the hunters. Together they retraced his steps for Deramo and they played the game again exactly. “When you walk, Deramo, put feet on hard rock, not mud. Do not place your scent on the bush or tree or big rocks so that the bear and the dog can hunt you. This Land receives the same treatment as a sacred temples of the South Tribes.”
“Now, you try to hide from me.” Yuta smeared foul mud and ash on white hands and face. Otherwise it would be too easy. “Go. Go!” It took many tries before Deramo could run, not damage any leaves, slink low under a small rock wall, hold still with his breath shallow even though his lungs burst for air, and disappear even for a few minutes.
The lesson was invaluable and both knew it. One day warriors, bears, lynx, dogs, even children might see them and chase them. Together they rested on ledges above the villages and observed the individual behaviors of the many Tribes. So many questions. Deramo wondered, why did Yuta not descend into the wigwam rings and introduce them both to his People?
Dogs roamed freely among the villagers. They stayed near families and never seemed interested in venturing off into the woods. The People seemed highly dependent on them. They were watchers, load carriers, playmates, sometimes suppers. Occasionally, the dogs howled with the cries from the deep forests; Yuta responded and imitated the call exactly. “It keeps the Others from approaching us,” Yuta rationalized but it chilled Deramo into his spine.
Yuta had questions too. “Does the Far Away Land hold many dogs, deer, bison, beaver?”
Deramo shook his head sadly. Most wildlife had already been hunted to extinction or replaced by domestic animals. “We own pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, cattle, or horses.”
Yuta was confused. He did not know these words. “Own? What does own mean? Draw, these animals, my son.”
Deramo drew pictures of the penned, domesticated animals of Europa for Yuta, explaining that they were all raised for food and clothing in confinement. Yuta smiled at him in his paternal way, artistry must be uncommon among the White Faces.
The sketches of animals troubled him. The White Faces did not hunt but restrained the beasts. The horse in particular interested him. He knew of a beast much like this with shaggy hair. “The runners from the place of the Incas say they have a big dog with much hair on which the People place their packs. Deramo, do Silver Hats carry these animals on the big ships?”
He turned to see Deramo’s blurry gape, “Yuta, the smaller animals are used on ships for food. How did you know of this? How many Dark Gho—I mean, Guardians of the Seas exist?” Yuta, looked away. He was thinking about horses.
Hiding deep in tall grass, they were observing life in an Ottawa village. Yuta wanted to show Deramo the members of this family.
“Captain Deramo, tell me about horses.”
Deramo tried in a mix of languages, signs and drawings. “Across the Waters in all the Places live many very big dogs, so big that people sit on them. Giant dog eat maize and tame like deer. Horses valuable and have been for all the years of my People. People use to carry heavy objects. They tie two or more together and use like dogs. Some pull very small house behind. My people enjoy riding races, where horses go fast to win competitions. The small carts have wheels like……”
“Yuta!” Deramo hissed softly under his teeth like the long snake as he had been taught. Among the children, Deramo clearly detected a child with long white hair, bleached bright by the sun. Her face was tanned but still white, he could see her eyes were blue-green as the sea. One of the other children tormented her, tugging at her snowy braids.
A village grandmother halted the behavior with a sharp shout, a gesture to all the children, and a thump on the miscreant’s head. He searched Yuta’s face for an answer. He wanted to run and talk his own language with her. Yuta shackled his ankle with the grip of a lion. This is the family he had wished Deramo to see but did not expect this reaction.
“No. No! The child does not know your speaking words. She knows only the words of these tipis.”
They watched and listened as the Grandmother settled the children with a long story of the creation of beasts with the older children acting out the animals. Deramo gawked at the old woman. Perhaps the life of a Native aged people rapidly, but she appeared to be 70 years, maybe older. He knew better than to ask. Yuta’s view of long periods of time was rather circular.
Yuta’s voice was nearly indiscernible from the soughing lea wind. “The child of white braids is in the lineage of the Old Mother. Do you see the common weave of their headbands to signify their relationship?” Soon, her daughters, and the granddaughters of daughters and joined her, all with a shimmer of gold like the sun in their hair.
Yuta fought salt tears from his eyes. The Old Mother could be his own; she still lived within his district and was a great Seer with high status. “Very few have long lives. The responsibilities of warriors, sentinels, hunters shorten the lives of men. Child rearing reduces the winters of women. Only a few Shamans live to the age of this Grandmother.”
Deramo was insistent on more explanations,
“How white hair child come live among People?”
Instead of the difficult concepts regarding the white children holding back the Breath of Sickness or the survival of the strongest, Yuta chose an ear of corn from his pack.
“Look, Deramo, nearly all kernels are blue, red, black, but there, in the center is a yellow kernel, all from the same ear of maize. And again, nearly, all the dogs are dark as the bear, but one is the soft color of a yarrow flower. So the Mother choses.” He placed his palm on Deramo’s chest and swept his arms to show the whole Land. Deramo agreed. Here he was a white face surviving in a Land of the People. As he flattened the dark kernels into his log book, an idea, not unlike the one Yuta once had, formed in his mind.
It was too much for Deramo. He had so many questions for which they lacked common words. He tried with mixed speech the two shared. “How many Nations? How many People? How many languages spoken? And how big this island?”
Yuta laughed deeply in his throat with a low rumble. To answer all four questions, Yuta drew two handfuls of dust and swept the grains into the wind with a wide motion onto the lake below. “The Peoples of the Nations are as many as the sands under the sea.”