The Raven Will Settle You
Tyoga was ahead and below Tes Qua when he heard the numbing screams.
He couldn’t make sense out of the cries. Tes Qua was stoic in pain, steady in crisis, and uncompromising in courage. But the guttural animal wail he heard coming from Tes Qua was instinctive and beyond such control.
Oblivious to the thorny underbrush tearing at his buckskins, he cleared the distance between them with dear-like bounds. He was by Tes Qua’s side in an instant. Wrapping his arms around his brother, he held him tight while his body writhed in pain. His face contorted with confusion and shock.
Unsure of what had happened, from which direction the assault had been launched and from what, or who, he must brace himself, Tyoga’s eyes focused animal-like on the forest that enveloped them. Framed by the wild and frenzied moments that bridge life and death, when instinct and reflex measure the divide, Tyoga assessed his surroundings with the clarity of eye that discerns even the most obscure and clandestine threats.
Prepared to give his life in defense of his friend, the images burned into his mind’s eye with lightning speed and exquisite detail.
Crouching low he surveyed the underbrush immediately in front of them—nothing—clear.
Whirling around on his mocassined heal, he checked the outcroppings behind and overhead—clear—nothing.
Spinning to his left, he scanned the clump of trees on the knoll on the far side of the stream—clear.
He ducked his head and folded Tes Qua in his arms while focusing his other senses—listening for the “zzsssstt” of arrows slicing the air, or the staccato retort of musket fire and the sulphur stench of acrid smoke.
Nothing … nothing.
When the spurting blood splattered his face in rhythmic course, his attention was once again focused on Tes Qua.
Looking down at his writhing companion, Tyoga saw what was left of Tes Qua’s lower leg. “To ‘hitsu, Tes Qua? To ‘hitsu?”
In their frenzied madness to sate Europeans’ hunger for pelts and furs, white trappers set powerful traps that yawned their promise of a cruel, agonizing death. It was unfair in its dismissal of nature’s sublime balance, untroubled by the savagery of its methodical course, unparalleled in resource, and unchallenged by the wiles of nature’s own. Hidden and chummed, their hypnotic allure beckoned the unwary fox, bear, beaver or wolf. At watering hole and scent rub, the savage death would wait at watering holes. Silent. Cold. Cocked. Lethal. Meting out its wanton brutality with reckless abandon.
Once tripped, the mighty jaws sink razor sharp jagged teeth through flesh and bone. Tendons, cartilage, arteries and veins are cleaved as the teeth course along their gruesome path. Tearing muscle and severing joints—the mutilation so lightning quick—so unexpected—that it takes a heartbeat or two for the agony to register.
The fortunate animals mercifully suffer only the misery of swift amputation, sentenced to an abbreviated life minus a limb. The others—after hours of hopeless combat with an unyielding oppressor—recognize the futility of further resistance and accept the inevitability of their final hours.
When the massive jaws of the bear trap clamped down on Tes Qua’s left ankle, the tearing of flesh and cracking of bone were muted by the primal scream of searing agony.
Tes Qua was crumpled down in the trail half-squatting in a rapidly growing pool of blood. Sitting on his right foot, his left knee was bent to his chest, his hands groping feebly at the horrible wound as if sending them there would make some sense of the horror and pain.
Cradling his friend in his arms, Tyoga’s mind was racing wildly out of control. His eyes were wide with alarm while Tes Qua’s blood splattered the trees and the rocks. The trail turned bright red under their feet.
His own hands joined Tes Qua’s at the wound in search for an answer as the spurting arteries covered his arms, his chest, and his face with the warm lifegiving liquid. Make it stop! Tyoga’s mind screamed. How do I make it stop?
When his brave companion’s body grew limp in his arms, he screamed, “Na deya Tes Qua. Don’t die. Na deya. I won’t let you die.”
His eyes welled with tears. His own body shook with helplessness and confusion.
The shattering cry reverberated off of the canyon walls and sliced through the hushed forest air with the harsh proclamation of unquestioned authority. The gruff, screaming scold of a raven summoned sharply from high overhead. The dissonant cry bounced off of the peaks and bluffs behind and above the boys, and eerily echoed off of the canyon walls.
The sound shook Tyoga to his core. As his eyes slowly cleared, he turned to look over his shoulder to the crest of the rise. There, in an ancient chestnut tree, the eyes of a solitary raven were riveted upon him. The bird’s marble black eyes glared from their deep-set sockets straight into the heart of Tyoga’s quaking frame. He did not survey the scene, judge the circumstance, nor take stock of their peril. He did not weigh meaning, offer resolution, nor suggest course. His gaze fixed upon Tyoga like a black-robed headmaster, displeased, but not yet ready to pronounce his verdict. Their eyes locked.
Tyoga remembered the promise. He understood.
“Yo’si’ gwu, Tes’a. We’re gonna be awrite.”
The ball of Tes Qua’s left foot was wedged deep and hard against the pan of the massive trap. The ligaments that supported the foot’s natural architecture were sinewy white bands slapping at Tes Qua’s ankle and calf, wildly searching for the purchase of muscle and bone that moments before had anchored them in place. Blood poured from incised vessels through the jagged gash and painted the stone upon which Tes Qua had come to rest a brilliant crimson.
One jaw of the trap had embedded its two-inch teeth deep into the marrow of Tes Qua’s ankle bone. The white of the joint capsule shone pearl-like through the surrounding pool of blood. The other jaw had snapped through the small bone in Tes Qua’s lower leg. The jagged fragment of bone had pierced through the skin on the other side of his mangled limb.
The enormous trap was tethered to the base of an oak tree by a heavy, rusty chain. Thankfully, it was not secured to the tree by a lock, but by a long iron pin that served as a clasp laced through several links in the chain.
Tyoga released the clasp and the chain was free of its mooring. Slowly, Tyoga lifted Tes Qua’s limp body and began the arduous trek up a steep embankment to a bluff about fifty yards away from the stream. He laid him gently on a flat table of rock that stood alter-like at the far end of the ridge. Stripping off his loin cloth, Tyoga balled it up and placed it under Tes Qua’s head.
He raced back down the embankment to the stream, moistened a clutch of maple leaves and brought it to his friend’s face. The cool water jolted Tes Qua from the mercy of semi-consciousness, and the agony returned in waves of wretchedness. He instinctively reached for the trap, but Tyoga intercepted the reflex with a gentle grasp. “Ne’ya, ditlihi. Don’t touch it.”
Calling Tes Qua “detilihi”(warrior) was the Indian way of strengthening a companion’s resolve as they marched into battle, or began a dangerous hunt. With a clearer eye and a more controlled demeanor,
Tes Qua hiked himself up onto his elbows.
“What are we going to do, Ty?”
“Let me have a look-see. Stopped bleedin’ some.” Tyoga bent down close to the trap to inspect the wound more closely. The bleeding had stopped, and crusty gelatinous ooze was congealing on the surface of the gash.
“First thing, I gotta try ta op’n the trap,” he said calmly and quietly.
Turning to look Tes Qua in the eye, he added with apologetic resolve,
“May hurt some.”
Tes Qua closed his eyes and nodded.
Tyoga removed the leather thong securing his Do’tse pouch to his belt. “Here.” He handed it to his friend.
Tes Qua put the leather strap in his mouth and bit down hard.
Hopping up onto the alter rock, Tyoga stood facing Tes Qua so that the trap and Tes Qua’s broken leg and mangled foot were at his feet.
Squatting down, he touched the jaws of the trap. He glanced up at his friend to see if the touch caused additional pain. Tes Qua didn’t flinch.
Unfamiliar with the workings of the bear trap’s pan and spring mechanism, he was unsure how to release his friend from the enormous jaws that clung so cruelly to his lower leg. He interlaced the fingers of his left hand between the razor sharp teeth that had snapped the small bone in Tes Qua’s leg. He could get a pretty good grip above where the jagged end of the bone protruded through the skin. He cocked his head to the right to survey the other jaw of the trap. That’s when he saw the iron long springs on either side of the trap’s hinge.
Tes Qua lay back down. His head rolled to one side. His mouth went slack and the leather strap fell to his chest.
“Do’hitsu, Tes’a?” His friend didn’t answer.
Better this way. Sleep, my brother. Sleep.
Tes Qua’s unconsciousness gave Tyoga the opportunity to try whatever he could to release his friend. Placing a foot on each of the long springs, he hoped that his weight would pinch the springs enough to loosen the jaws sufficiently to pull Tes’A’s leg free of its grip. The weight of a twelve-year-old proved to be no match for the trap’s long springs.
He placed both his feet on a single spring to concentrate all of his weight on one side of the trap. The long spring surrendered a bit to the new approach. If he could apply equal weight to the long spring on the other side of the trap, he might have a chance to free his friend.
Surveying the area around them, Tyoga saw a granite boulder that appeared to be heavy enough to compress the long spring into submission. It was the perfect size and shape. Rolling it over to the alter rock, he lifted it up onto the raised flat surface, and carefully slid its smooth flat surface onto the long spring. The spring collapsed under its formidable weight, but the jaws did not budge as the tremendous force of the remaining long spring was more than sufficient to keep the trap clamped in place.
Snatching a long straight hickory stick from the ground, Tyoga steadied himself and carefully placed his left foot onto the flat iron face of the opposite long spring. Supporting himself with the hickory stick, his right foot left the ground, and his entire body weight came to bear on the long spring. Slowly, the jaws began to release their grip.Muscles straining in his legs, arms,
Muscles straining in his legs, arms, shoulder and back while he supported himself with the hickory stick, he quaked from the force of his effort. He felt the jaws continue to loosen their vice-like grip while the sweat poured from his brow, into his eyes, and dripped off of his nose.
When he flung the sweat from his eyes with a shake of his head, he caught a glimpse of a horrible sight.
As the jaws were opening, the teeth embedded into Tes Qua’s ankle were not releasing their hold on the bone. The more Tyoga opened the trap, the more Tes Qua’s foot was being torn from his lower leg.
Beholding the gruesome sight, Tyoga realized the odd transformation that had taken place in the macabre device. Designed to entrap, maim and ultimately kill; the trap had become an instrument of a new, merciful purpose acting as a splint, holding foot to leg.
The cruel jagged teeth that ravaged and sliced were now protective and conservatory. The trap hadn’t changed, and neither had its purpose, really. But the utility of its charge had been completely revoked.
Tyoga couldn’t bear the thought nor the act of re-imprisonment, but with the strength draining from his now numb arms and violently shaking legs, he closed his eyes with the realization that the only course was to relinquish the progress so costly gained. He tightened his grip on the hickory stick while transferring his weight from the spring to his arms, and listened helplessly to the sickening sound as the teeth of the devilish jaws once again sank their teeth deep into his friend’s flesh and bone.
When Tes Qua woke up, it was late afternoon.
Tyoga had gone to the pond several hundred yards downstream to retrieve some supplies that they had secreted along the banks from their last fishing trip. There was a black obsidian tomahawk that Tes Qua’s uncle had given to him; a steel bladed knife that the boys had taken from the body of a trapper who had frozen to death on the summit of old Mount Rag that they had happened upon several years ago; and a water gourd. Tyoga had filled the gourd with fresh water, placed the fishing weirs in the stream, and had built a fire in hopes of attracting some help.
“A’tey a Ho?” (How are you doing?) Tyoga asked his friend when he saw him stir.
“Ney da do, Ty.” (Not well.)
“I know. Hurt much?”
“No,” Tes Qua answered. “I can’t feel anything.”
“Tsadulis tsaldati? I caught some fish.”
“Tla. I’m not hungry.”
“Hey ya. Esginehvsi.” Tes Qua took several long gulps of the cool mountain water from the gourd Tyoga handed to him. “What are we going to do, Ty?”
“Gotta go fer help, Tes’a. Gonna be dark soon. Cain’t be here in the dark. Bad spot. Lotta sign.”
“Can you make it back before dark, Ty?” Tes Qua looked around their campsite. “It’s a pretty long way back to Tuckareegee.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Won’t be too long after tho’,” Tyoga replied.
“An’ I’ll be back dark or no. Would’a lef sooner, but I couldn’t leave ya sleepin’. Best get along now tho’.” He turned to spring toward the woods before stopping and pulling the obsidian tomahawk that he had secured in his belt and handing it to Tes Qua.
“Here’s the tomahawk, Tes—just in case. Tes’a, yer gonna have ta tend th’ fire. Lotsa wood piled up here for ya, but cain’t leave the fire go out—or ev’n git low—ya unnerstan?”
Tes Qua opened his eyes and looked at Tyoga for a brief instant. He saw the words that Tyoga did not want to say expressed in his face.
Tyoga gently shook his friend to convey his stern and meaningful message. “Ya cain’t leave it go out, Tes’a.—Cain’t let it git low ev’n.”
He stood, and with several leaps, he was gone from sight.
He hadn’t gone twenty paces before they both heard the murderous howl of the first wolf.