The snow had begun falling in earnest, thick as ash from some all-consuming fire.

“We should go,” Cork said.

“I want to stay for a while.”

“I have to leave, Isaiah.”

“Then leave.”

“Long walk home.”

Isaiah Broom said, “I know.”


S now had fallen the night before, not deep, but enough to coat the ground. A hunter’s snow. As they came across Lake Nanaboozhoo, the sun was just rising, and the eastern sky, clear now, was a deep russet, the color of oak leaves in the fall. Above the distant shoreline, the top of Trickster’s Point caught the first light of day, and it reminded Cork of a finger dipped in old blood.

The air was cool. A low white mist lay on the water, and the canoes glided through as if touching nothing but air. Cork had the stern, Rainy the bow. In the stern of the other canoe, Stephen dug his paddle into the lake easily and almost without sound. Up front, despite his age, Meloux kept pace just as smoothly.

When they reached the far side, the whole upper half of Trickster’s Point was lit with morning sunlight, which by now had turned gold, and the tops of the trees looked bathed in honey. They pulled the canoes onto shore and tipped them and laid the paddles against the upturned hulls. Without a word, they began to thread their way through the trees, following the same path, more or less, that Cork and Jubal Little had followed only a week before. They said nothing to one another as they walked, and the only sound was the soft crush of their boot soles on the thin crust of snow.

They broke from the trees, and Trickster’s Point rose above them, and for a moment, Cork’s heart beat faster, as he remembered all the death he’d been a part of there. But all that death was, in fact, the reason they’d come.

Meloux had brought his bandolier bag, an ancient accoutrement made of ornately beaded deerskin. At the base of the great monolith, he slid the bag from his shoulder, opened it, and drew out a small leather pouch filled with tobacco.

“Stephen,” he said and held the tobacco pouch toward Cork’s son.

Stephen seemed surprised and pleased. He took it, loosened the drawstring, and dipped his thumb and index finger inside. He pulled out a pinch of tobacco and offered it to the East, the first of the four grandfathers. Then he turned clockwise and made an offering to each of the other grandfathers: South, West, and North. He let a pinch fall to the ground where he stood, as an offering to Mother Earth, and finally tossed a bit in the air as an offering to the Great Spirit above.

Meloux took back the pouch and returned it to his bandolier bag. Next he pulled out four sage bundles tied with hemp threads, which he’d prepared by lantern light that morning in his cabin while it was still dark outside. He gave a bundle to each of them and kept one for himself. From the bag, he took four shallow clay bowls painted with designs in ocher, and gave them out. After that, he carefully drew out four black turkey feathers, each quill wrapped in soft leather binding, and handed them around.

The old Mide sat down on the snow, and the others sat with him. He set his clay bowl on the ground, untied his small bundle, and mounded the dried sage in the center of the shallow cupping. He took a box of kitchen matches from his bandolier bag and put flame to the dried sage, which began to smolder. He held his hands in the smoke to cleanse them, then used his feather to blow smoke gently across his heart and his head. He wafted smoke across each of the others in turn.

He sang a prayer in Ojibwe, which Rainy and Stephen both clearly understood, but Cork, whose own knowledge of the language remained rudimentary at best, heard only the rise and fall of the gentle invocation.

Then Meloux spoke in English. “All life is one weaving, one design by the hand of the Creator, the Great Mystery. All life is connected, thread by thread. When one thread is cut, the others weaken.”

He lifted his bowl and, with his feather, encouraged the smoke across Cork.

“We are here to help this man heal.”

He turned toward the towering monolith beside him, and the smoke that rose from the smoldering sage drifted against the face of the rock.

“We are here to help this place heal,” Meloux said.

He nodded to the others, and they loosed their bundles into their own bowls. They lit the sage and stood with Meloux.

“Stephen, you come with me.” The old Mide nodded to the north. “Rainy, you and Corcoran O’Connor go that way.” He indicated south.

“And do what, Henry?” Cork asked.


“What prayer?”

“Whatever is in your heart. There are no right words, and there are no wrong words.”

Rainy and Cork began to circle to the south. They used the feathers Meloux had given them to keep the sage embers burning and to draft the smoke against the gray stone and diffuse it into the air around them. They spoke quietly to themselves. Cork couldn’t hear Rainy’s words, but his own prayer was brief and sincere: “Give peace to this place and peace to my heart.”

They all met halfway round and stood at the spot where, over the course of three hours, Jubal Little’s life had trickled away. The sage had burned to ash. They tipped their clay bowls, and the ashes fell and lay like faint shadows on the white snow. Cork looked across the jumble of broken talus between Trickster’s Point and the ridge slope where Willie Crane had hidden himself and had fired the fatal arrow. Above it, among the aspens that capped the top of the ridge, was the place where Willie had killed the chimook and, in doing so, had saved Cork’s life.

“Coincidence,” Cork said. “I never believed in it much until now.”

“Nanaboozhoo,” Meloux told him, as if that explained everything.

“The trickster,” Rainy said, “who delights in confounding our ambitions and expectations.”

“When I was a kid, I envied Jubal everything he’d been given,” Cork said.

“And now?” Rainy asked.

“Now?” Cork put his arm around her. “I feel like the richest of men.”

The sun had risen fully, and the great stone tower was ablaze with the morning light, as if, in addition to the smudging, it was being purified with fire.

“Anything more?” Stephen asked Meloux.

“Yes,” the old man replied. “You send us off from this place with a prayer.”

Which clearly caught Stephen by surprise. But Cork’s son composed himself and thought for a long moment. And this is what he said. O Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds And whose breath gives life to everyone, Hear me. I come to you as one of your many children; I am weak. I am small. I need your wisdom and your strength. Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever Behold the red and purple sunsets. Make my hand respect the things you have made, And make my ears sharp so I may hear your voice. Make me wise, so that I may understand what you Have taught my people and The lessons you have hidden in each leaf and each rock. I ask for wisdom and strength, Not to be superior to my brothers, but to be able To fight my greatest enemy, myself. Make me ever ready to come before you with Clean hands and a straight eye, So as life fades away as a fading sunset, My spirit may come to you without shame.

It was not an original prayer. Cork had heard it many times before, but he was impressed and pleased that his son knew it by heart.

Meloux smiled and nodded and said, “It is done.”

He collected the clay bowls, returned them to his bandolier bag, and together they walked back toward the blue lake and the rising sun.

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